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3 Ways leaders can prepare employees for change

Employee resistance can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for organisational change. Without an adaptive mindset, progress is limited and there is a strong risk of failure. In fact, adaptability has emerged as 2020’s most important trait.

According to the APM study The Adaptive Project Professional, project managers have a real responsibility to shape change in their organisation. Leaders and their teams should seek to develop ‘meta-competencies’ which support core skills – such as an ability to continually learn, resilience, and adaptability to change.

So how can you prepare your employees for change? Here we look at three key strategies which leaders can adopt in order to develop meta-competencies and onboard their team ahead of change. The result – smoother processes and improved success rates.

Openly share the challenges the business faces

An underlying cause of resistance to change is simply lack of understanding. If kept in the dark about what is driving company change then, through no fault of their own, employees will struggle to comprehend the change, and this will cause resistance.

For that reason, it is imperative that leaders share the rationale behind the approach. Building an open culture which values strong communication is an essential part of change management. When employees understand the business’ decisions, they are sure to better support - and even play an active role in - the change efforts.

To truly craft a transparent culture, leaders should also be open about any challenges facing the company. It is unsurprising that staff oppose pivots in direction if they are oblivious to the organisation’s challenges. Open up the conversation about competition, the evolving marketplace, and even economics. You will not only gain employee support for change, but they may even become part of the solution.

Allow employees to take risks

As well as creating an open dialogue and company transparency, leaders must also allow employees to take risks. Whilst this in itself carries a level of risk, the logic is that employees who have been trusted to be exploratory within their role will be less likely to resist change initiatives on the grounds that they ‘seem risky’. Essentially creating familiarity with both change and the associated risks.

Leaders can achieve this by actively encouraging innovation and fostering creative thinking. By experimenting and normalising failure as part of the process, teams are more comfortable with taking risks in order to reach the best solution for a problem. By building a trusting culture within the workplace, leaders will benefit from employees who are onboard with and unphased by change.

Build your team’s self-confidence

Hand in hand with allowing employees to take risks is building their self-confidence to do so. Any lack of confidence will show itself in change efforts. If an employee doubts their ability to navigate change successfully there is a good chance they will be resistant to the change.

In order to combat this, leaders should look to support teams and provide employees with learning opportunities in order to boost their confidence in their role. Agile training, for example, can be of great benefit for building confidence. Beyond teaching employees about the methodology, agile working practices will accelerate soft skills. From thinking on your feet to tenacity, and most importantly, adaptability.

In terms of support, rewarding risk-taking and giving employees ownership of their exploration can go a long way to building confidence. As can encouraging reflective practices (much like agile retrospectives) where failures and successes are reflected upon in order to promote continual improvement.

Empowering your employees with self-belief, understanding, and a familiarity with change will go a long way to onboarding them and minimising resistance to change. When employees feel safe in the knowledge that they can adapt when things don’t go to plan, they are far better equipped and prepared for change, and this can be the key to success for change management.