How do you feel about undergoing change?
Have you ever felt management doesn’t care about you when they make decisions about workplace changes? Have you ever felt powerless about changes being made? Have you ever criticized management for the way they handle change?
In a previous post called “A rough guide to leading change“, I pointed out what organizational leaders can do to make change easier for employees as so often they don’t realize what the employees are going through. This post is dedicated to looking at leading change from a different perspective, exploring ways for you as an employee to make change easier for the leader, and ultimately yourself.
You are more powerful than you think
What people often don’t realize is that even though your leader is in a powerful position and might earn more than you, they remain human and are by far outnumbered by a number of people they have to keep happy, and they can not exist or be successful without a team to lead. In other words, a leader is not more important in the change process than the employees, and the employees can do as much to bring positive change to the workplace.
When organizational change is announced, the leader is going through the exact amount of stress than the employees, with the added responsibility of having to make difficult choices, and not having anyone to blame or complain to when things are not going as smoothly as planned. The employee, on the other hand, feels disempowered, causing them stress, yet both the leader and the person being led are ultimately going through the same issues.
The employee and the employer are on the same team just looking at two different sides of the same coin.
It is not an us against them as both are equally important in the organization, simply with different roles. When you go to a Michelin star restaurant, you might enjoy the best-prepared meal, but if the waiter doesn’t fail to serve you with a smile or the restrooms are dirty and not well maintained, you probably will not go back or recommend it. Each person in the team is as important as the rest – the chef, the waiter, and the cleaners – excluding even one or making them less important will result in the restaurant rating being less than they hoped for.
Similarly, in any workplace, whether you are the intern or the CEO, each person is important but they have different roles. If you want to be happy in your workplace, you need to realize that everyone is part of the same team and that you can take responsibility without having to always rely on the leader to act.
So what can employees do to make change easier for leadership, and ultimately themselves?
1. Communication is a two-way street
Most employees are too afraid to speak up because they fear the repercussions, which results in many valid issues never reaching the manager, rendering them in turn powerless to do anything about it. Understandably. I’ve been rejected and disrespectfully treated many times as a result of speaking up for the team I work with. Both by the managers that doesn’t want to hear about any issues, demonstrating to the team that it is not safe to raise concerns; as well as my peers who side with management in an attempt of self-preservation, even though they secretly tell me that what I said or did was right and admire my guts.
As a leader who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of her team, though, it is extremely frustrating seeing gossip going on but not knowing what the issue is. When asking about it openly only get a response saying that nothing is wrong, even though they can clearly see something is very wrong. Keeping quiet is the biggest cause of conflict as it doesn’t allow for the issue to be resolved and the longer you keep quiet about the issue, the bigger it gets, making it even harder to raise. Misunderstandings only ever exist because of miscommunication.
“But they never listen to me!” I hear you say.
Yes, leaders make many mistakes, and one of the biggest mistakes is not listening enough to their people’s needs and concerns. But if you are the only one ever speaking up, chances are big that you will be seen as an annoyance. However if everyone expressed how they feel about an issue, suddenly it is a problem that can not be ignored anymore. The power is in the numbers, and guess who has the most? Don’t ever think you as the employee is less powerful than your manager!
Scared about the repercussions? Try leaving an anonymous note on your boss’ desk. Better, ask everyone in your team to do the same. Tell them about your fears, your wishes, and share your solutions to problems you are facing. Don’t just complain, say what you think will make it better for you.
2. Take responsibility
Responsibility. Probably the most misunderstood word in the universe. Most people interpret responsibility to mean that you have more power or have more work to do, while actually it merely relates to your level of responsiveness to events happening to you or around you. Literally, it means your ability to respond. How many times have you tried to print something just to notice there is no paper in the printer and there is 10 or more print job before you? Unless the paper is locked up and you need a special key to get to it, there is no reason why you have to wait for someone else to replenish the paper. You are able to. The question is, do you?
The two questions you need to ask yourself to determine your level of responsibility is “Can you?” and then “Do you?” If you answer yes to one but not the other, you are not responsible. If you answer yes to both, you are.
Whenever a company undergoes change, there are always a lot of things that needs to be acted upon and it is most likely that something will slip through the cracks. With fewer resources and more work, chances are that management didn’t think of everything. You can help by taking responsibility whenever you see something that needs attention. Report issues, offer a solution to a problem, volunteer your help. Many hands make light work, and it makes you feel more valuable!
3. Don’t judge
Leaders have to make difficult choices, and yes, they make a lot of mistakes, especially if they are hard, not soft leaders . Unfortunately, few leaders are willing to acknowledge their mistakes, but the good ones will.
When a leader makes a bad call in your opinion, don’t immediately judge. Think of the possibility that there might be more to the decision than meets the eye. You might not be aware of legal requirements that drive the decision, or the financial impact on shareholders, or what they have been told by their leaders.
If you are still not convinced, gather up the courage and raise your concern. Ideally in a face-to-face discussion, but otherwise write an anonymous letter. All misunderstandings are as a result of not having enough information. You hear half a story and jump to a conclusion, or you only look at your team while it is an international company. Find out the facts from the source before you make a judgment and put yourself in the shoes of the leader making these decisions. What would you have done if you were in this situation?
4. Don’t engage in gossip
Gossip is the poison that kills company culture and one of the biggest causes of unhappiness at work. It slowly eats away at you and the more you engage in the gossip of any kind, the unhappier you will find yourself becoming.
“But everyone does it!” I hear you say, or “It’s not gossipping, it’s just getting information that management doesn’t want to share”.
In both cases you are right. But just because that is how people currently act, doesn’t mean that it is right. You don’t have to stop talking to your colleagues, it merely means that you talk about things and ideas as opposed to discussing people and their behaviors.
My secret to not allow myself to gossip because it is very easy to do is my vivid imagination. I imagine that the person I’m talking about is standing just around the corner overhearing everything and can walk at any moment. Or you can laugh it away and change the subject or excuse yourself for a while.
5. Say thank you for the things that do work
What you put your focus on will grow. If you focus on things that aren’t working in your organization, you will find more and more things that don’t work. However, if you look for even as little as one thing that does work and says thank you to the manager, you will be amazed at how they will go out of their way to give you more reasons to thank you.
Being a leader is a very ungrateful job in most cases, and the majority of employees are quick to complain but very slow on compliments. But just as you are looking for positive feedback from your boss, so is he looking for recognition and feedback from you.
Try it for a month and see how it changes the culture and motivation levels in the team. A thank you is easy, it’s free, and it makes you look better. You have nothing to loose and everything to gain.
Going through change is tough whether you are the employer making the changes or the employee undergoing the changes. However, employees are far from powerless in driving change in the workplace or making a positive difference to make transitions easier. A simple thank you goes a long way, and making small changes can make change easy while improving the morale of the office.
You don’t need anything but a good attitude to make change easier for everyone.
What about you? What do you suggest people do to make transitions easier? Share your success stories, your advice, and your comments below, and hit the share button if you agree with the post.
Photo courtesy Unsplash, I, the author have the right to use this picture.