Training for Adaptation

Strategies that enable front-line employees to participate in the changes driving their organizations and learn that the change is positive for them, as well as the organization.

By John C. Cunningham, Education Coordinator, Lenders Solution Group, Indecomm Global Services

Workplace change—it’s a phenomenon that can trigger an array of unpleasant reactions in even the most positive of mindsets. How many of you upon reading this opening phrase actually started to clench your teeth? How many of you were reminded immediately of a past change initiative at your place of work that just didn’t go…the. . .way…it…was…supposed…to, or made you feel “not in control” or less “in control” than normal?

If you answered, “Yes,” to any of these questions, you are not alone. Change has always been considered a word that elicits “concern.” Workplace change can leave “concern” in the dust as it progresses to anxiety and worry, and without some understanding, to alarm and distress.

Well, rest assured it is OK to feel the way you do with regard to workplace change. Most of us are in positions at our jobs where we aren’t necessarily “in control” when it comes to change initiatives.

When an organization in any sector attempts to implement change, the process moves through three groups: the change motivators (usually senior management), the change implementers (typically middle management/supervisors) and the change targets (often the front-line employees). The change motivators will come up with a “great idea” and tell the change implementers to put it in place. They, in turn, direct the change targets to use the newly implemented systems and make it happen. The “it” is whatever the “great idea” happened to be. While this is a simplification of a generalized process, I think the point comes through: Of the three groups, the change targets (the vast majority of the workforce) are the ones who have the least amount of control over the change.

Nevertheless, there are strategies that enable front-line employees to participate in the changes driving their organizations and learn that the change is positive for them, as well as the organization.

Take the Fear Out of Change

It’s OK to experience distress in the wake of change. This is normal when something comes to an end. Think about it—whenever we experience an ending of any sort, we experience a range of emotions, even if we want the end to occur or know it will occur. When you first discover a change initiative is on its way, allow yourself the opportunity to reflect. Actually, expect that you will need to do this. That way when the change comes, as it inevitably will, you won’t be surprised or feel the need to suppress your emotions.

Next, remind yourself of past successes you’ve had as a result of change. This can be change in any area of your life. Dwell on how good it felt to succeed in professional or educational efforts, as well as the opportunities they have afforded you. These all came from moments of change, scary moments, but moments that were the catalysts to positive experiences, which, in turn, bred success and happiness. What were the keys in enabling those times of change to bring such positive results?

Take stock of these successful experiences and identify what worked for you and how you managed change. Then you can leverage that information into strategies to help you manage present change initiatives.

One such strategy I’ve seen a number of people use to their benefit in the face of the uncertainties of change is to connect with colleagues. Within nearly every workplace change initiative, you are not alone. The experience is sure to affect your co-workers, who most likely are experiencing the same issues. Use one another to aid in the change process, including discussions about new developments in the organization, past successes shared among colleagues, and strategies to make changes run smoothly or as simply a means to talk about the personal impact of the changes. Talking through the issues is a great way to take fear out of the process. These discussions should not devolve into complaint sessions, which often is tempting. Honest and purposeful dialogue will help everyone work through the issues of the pending change in a positive, strategic, and healthy manner.

Use Your Voice

“The times they are a-changin”—that poignant song lyric from Bob Dylan couldn’t be truer regarding workplace change initiatives. There is much more acceptance by business and company leaders that employees are a company’s greatest asset. More and more change motivators and change implementers are coming to grips with the fact that change happens to individuals first and organizations second. They see that trust, communication, and transparency are key elements in any organization’s culture, and required for any change initiative to move forward effectively.

That said, employees, the change targets, should be proactive in the process, asking questions and taking a role in the initiative within the constraints of their position. Knowing and completely understanding the big picture concept with regard to the proposed change is invaluable in managing change. If there’s something your workplace leaders have not communicated to you, simply ask.

Understanding change is your responsibility when it comes to considering your own workplace needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, for extra training, for trouble-shooting tips, or for coaching. Share your ideas as to how the initiative can be made even more successful with your colleagues. Your ability to do so is an opportunity to better your organization and to empower yourself by maintaining and increasing your control.

Life is all about change. It would be unrealistic not to expect otherwise. The secret to managing workplace change, especially for employees, is to remember that facilitating change isn’t just for leaders; it’s for everyone.

John C. Cunningham is Education coordinator, Lenders Solution Group, Indecomm Global Services. He specializes in change management for both individuals and organizations. Cunningham has more than two decades of experience in education and training, as well as learning and development. He has broad experience in public and private education, the arts, and social services. He is also a Results Coach and received his training at Coach U. He can be reached at John.Cunningham@Indecomm.net.

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