In the business world, nothing is older than the concept of disruption. Technology in all its various forms leads to disruption, and employers have long struggled with how change management should fit into ongoing practices. In many firms, HR policies are often designed to help coordinate resources and share information in an effort to improve employee responsiveness to changing conditions.
On top of that, research highlighted by the Society for Human Resources Management shows that nearly 90 percent of employers say that change initiatives will increase in the coming years.
The hard part is that changing conditions often necessitate behavior change, which is the most challenging aspect of managing this process. The silver lining? Research helps us to understand the best ways to help drive change in positive ways.
Core Concepts for Change Management
Business transparency, according to data from Lighthouse Research, leads to better employee relations and satisfaction. Employers carry an impressive array of HR policies explaining how employees should act, but those documents also offer opportunities to show how the company will act as well. By documenting these for employee review, employers can help to set expectations and lay out clear rules of engagement (foundational principles for positive employee relations).
There are three specific actions that employers should take when supporting any change initiative:
- Communicate: Clearly lay out the expected change, any known timelines or milestones, and expected roles for employees.
- Listen: Take time to listen to employee concerns, seeking them out at regular intervals to ensure clear lines of communication across the firm.
- Act: When appropriate, take action on employee concerns to support their interests; while not all issues can be addressed, even acknowledging some problems can help to alleviate stress.
Again, these are fundamental components of change management, but for those tasked with leading change, there are options beyond policymaking to support behavior change.
Using Behavioral Science to Support Change
In the landmark book "Influence," Robert Cialdini highlighted key methods and mechanisms for influencing others. These six areas include:
- Reciprocation: People want to return the favor if someone has done something nice for them.
- Commitment and Consistency: People want to maintain a consistent self-image and will act accordingly.
- Social Proof: People will do what others around them are doing.
- Liking: People buy from people they like, so building relationships is key.
- Authority: People intuitively follow those in authoritative/leadership positions of power.
- Scarcity: People will act if they think their window of opportunity is closing.
Each of these pieces helps to guide employers as they try to shift behaviors and influence workers during change management efforts. For example:
- In communications, use social proof to encourage completion. "Nearly 90 percent of our workforce has already completed the survey."
- Use authority figures to support changes. "We are moving to a new healthcare option and we have sought the advice of a licensed medical doctor to support our plan design."
- Leverage scarcity to spur action. "We are closing the doors on choices later this week. If you don't make a selection by Friday, you will be moved to the default option."
There is nothing manipulative about this. It's simply another method for encouraging workers to change by using principals of psychology to support the action. Behavioral science has advanced as a field so much in recent years, and the methods within can help to drive the right behaviors for employees.
Change management is a constant, but that doesn't mean it has to be a constant headache. Leveraging HR policies that spell out expectations, demonstrate transparency and support employee needs is a great start. Additionally, using targeted, strategic communications can spur the right person to take the right action at the right time.