Culture Change

Prepare Your Staff for Change by Building a Culture of Adaptability

When your organization is on the cusp of a major change, you can expect mixed reactions and some resistance from employees. You can help your staff prepare for change by building adaptability into your organizational culture. 

By Rebecca Hawk

Many organizational leaders don’t start thinking about their staff’s openness to change until a major shift—such as an executive-level transition or an organizational restructuring—is on the horizon. For many organizations, though, frequent change is becoming the norm. Here are five small ways to help staff embrace—and not just tolerate—change and create a nimbler organization.

Ask staff for feedback on your processes and culture, and act on it. Exploring your employees’ attitudes and feelings about topics such as communication and transparency will give you important insights into their comfort level with how change is currently managed.

An all-staff survey is a great way to gather feedback directly from employees rather than relying on your executive team’s perception of staff opinion. While it requires significant time to create and deploy, a well-thought-out survey does more than just collect information—it also lets staff know that their opinions matter. At a more granular level, managers can gather employee feedback via regular performance evaluations or check-ins.

When you ask your staff to share their thoughts, it’s important to show that you hear them by acting on the feedback you get. After reviewing the results of a survey or performance reviews, your leadership team should let staff know how their input will inform any organizational changes. If the feedback reveals gaps in your espoused cultural values, processes, or other key areas that affect your staff’s ability to adapt to change, then seek to address them.

Organizational culture tends to flow from the top down: If leaders demonstrate adaptability, staff are likely to follow suit.

Train managers to lead by example and to coach staff through change. Organizational culture tends to flow from the top down: If leaders demonstrate adaptability, staff are likely to follow suit. To this end, your organization’s mid-level managers play an important role in helping staff become more adaptable in a few key ways.

Managers act as your first line of communication to individual staff members. Make sure your managers are in the loop about upcoming changes so that they can share accurate, relevant information in a timely manner with their teams.

Mid-level managers also often drive their staff members’ professional development. While staff should have access to ongoing professional development, make sure you offer the training and resources your staff needs to adapt to new technology and other changes. Your managers should be aware of these resources so that they can proactively equip their teams. This shows staff that your organization is invested in their success.

Give staff clear, safe opportunities to ask questions—and answer them candidly. You can expect skepticism—and even resistance—from some staff members, no matter how small a change you’re making. Resentment and frustration often arise when staff members feel out of the loop or don’t understand how a change will help the organization achieve its mission. Help staff adapt to impending changes by giving them a safe, dedicated forum for asking questions—in a town hall meeting or series of brown-bag sessions, for example.

Whatever format you choose, make sure leaders answer questions as candidly as possible. The more transparent your organization is, the more informed and engaged your staff are likely to feel, which can lead to improved outcomes from implementing change.

Identify change champions. Leverage the power of peer-to-peer communication by enlisting employees who will advocate on behalf of a particular change, energize reluctant staff members, and dispel harmful gossip. Ideally, your change champions will represent different departments and levels within the organization.

Smart organizations also make sure their change champions demonstrate that asking for help and support is OK. By doing this consistently, they can help break down silos and foster cross-departmental communication, making it clear that collaboration is a real organizational value and not just a buzzword.

Helping your employees become more adaptable is a long-term process, but it’s well worth your efforts. When staff members feel heard, engaged, and involved in decision making, you’ll likely find that they’ll stand behind changes big and small.

Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]

Organizational Culture Employee Training