6 Tips for Dealing with Unwanted Change in the Workplace

unwanted change

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving—we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

Change in the workplace can create a ripple effect of distress throughout an entire organization. Unwanted transitions may include big budget cuts, sudden layoffs, company relocations, or the introduction of different programs or processes that come with undesirable drawbacks. These types of changes are necessary at times, but depending on the circumstances, they can weigh heavily on employee morale and even affect an organization’s reputation.

As unsettling as it can be at first, change is often positive. But on occasion, an organization may begin heading in a direction that compromises its values or mission. While the hope is that leadership will make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization and its employees, people are imperfect and outcomes can be difficult to foresee. We’re all vulnerable to what author Daniel Goleman calls the “amygalda hijack”—when fear takes over, it can affect our ability to make optimal decisions. It’s challenging in the moment to know whether our choices are the best ones, and sometimes we don’t understand the impact of our decisions until we’re able to see them in retrospect. By then, it’s often too late to turn back.

External factors such as social progress or shifts in industry impact our organizations in ways we can’t control. But in some areas, we do have control, leaving us with the responsibility of promoting “positive” changes that align with organizational values.

If you feel an impending change is not a positive one for the organization or its employees, here are 6 tips that can help you navigate the conflict of interest.

1. Speak up! Have the conversation.

Bring your concerns to your fellow leaders, even if you fear your perspective may differ strongly from the rest of the group. This is a time for courage and a time to be fierce. You may be seeing something that others aren’t. A conversation may not change the trajectory of whatever lies ahead, but any conversation can.

2. Provide an alternative.

Complaining is easy, and it’s not the best way to get others to listen. If you believe you have a valid reason to complain, present an alternative idea instead of the complaint. If something isn’t working related to a recent or expected change, providing an alternative may be the best way to steer the current course of things in a new and better direction.

3. Benchmark.

A benchmark can provide a solid backing to your perspective by illustrating what works and what doesn’t. For example, if a new program is introduced that you believe is less effective than a previous one, compare results from the two different programs, prepare your data, and plan a follow-up conversation. If the numbers show greater results in favor of what you’re supporting, it could potentially shift an outcome in a positive direction.

4. Encourage others to have the conversation.

The effects of change can be felt across an entire organization, and what everyone is really thinking and feeling sometimes surfaces during happy hours or water cooler conversations. If colleagues are expressing their concerns to each other but not directly to leadership, the direction the company is headed will stay the same, and leaders won’t be able to fully support their teams if they’re not informed of how people feel. Encourage your team members to share their concerns directly with you or with leadership in general, and likewise, encourage your fellow leaders to involve everyone in a decision that will, in fact, impact everyone.

5. Check your context.

Our personal experiences throughout our lives shape our context and create a subjective lens through which we see the world. Context can become an issue when the way we’re choosing to see things isn’t producing the results we want. While it’s important to relay your concerns and stand up for your organization and your colleagues, consider the underlying intentions of the proposed change, and keep in mind that sometimes initially uncomfortable changes can bring desirable outcomes later. Change begets change, so project forward—what positives could occur in the future as a result of this supposedly “unwanted” change?

6. Trust yourself.

If you’ve checked your context and explored any assumptions you might be making, it’s important to trust yourself at the end of the day. To trust yourself means to trust how you truly feel once you’ve eliminated bias. If a decision is made that lacks integrity or goes against what you value most, you’ll have to decide whether you want to continue being a part of the organization. Have a conversation with yourself about whether you should stay or go. Only you know the answer.

Can you recall a time when you changed the direction your organization was headed for the better, or witnessed someone who did? Share with us.

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