My first plan for this blog was to list the top five most impactful HR events of 2013. But as I began to
think about what those would be—Marissa Mayer’s massive change to Yahoo’s culture, the constantly changing landscape of Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a new emphasis on ERISA compliance—I started to see a theme. Man, businesses have a LOT of change to deal with. I mean, they always have, but the pace has accelerated wildly. So instead I think it would be good, here at the change of the year, to talk about surviving and thriving in change.
There is one set of attributes a company needs if it’s going to handle change well and It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing: You have to have both trust and open, honest communication.
Trust, of course, is partly based on open, honest communication. But if you have open, honest communication without having already established a relationship of trust, it doesn’t always help. If you tell your employees, for example, that some law has changed that will affect their benefits and you’re not sure how it will all shake out, you might be as transparent as daylight. But if they don’t already trust you, if they don’t sense that you’re looking out for their best interests, talking about it with them may just feel like a warning of impending danger and uncertainty. Something along the lines of: You may be about to take a huge financial hit, I’m not sure. Have a nice day.
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, was completely open about her reasons for suddenly completely changing her position on employees working remotely for Yahoo. She wanted people to have a community, to collaborate. But suddenly demanding that hundreds of employees who built their lives around working from home now start coming into the office isn’t a great way to build trust. It communicates a real lack of interest in her employees as people. Asking for change when your employees have a sense that you don’t care how the change affects them isn’t likely to work well. If change is coming, you need to understand that it’s going to be hard for employees and show some interest in helping them cope.
The Affordable Care Act and ERISA both brought a lot of changes that flummoxed both employers and employees. What kind of health insurance would be required? How much would it cost? Who would it apply to? How would new ERISA laws impact retirement accounts?
There’s a way to talk to employees about these changes, making it clear that—while you really don’t have the answers yet—you’re going to face the changes as a team. Employees need to know “This is what’s happening. This is different from last week and this is why it’s different. We’re on top of it and we’ll keep you apprised of everything you need to know. ” And they will believe you if you have communicated consistently and honestly in the past – so have you?
Change makes everyone feel vulnerable. But as an employer, a good focus on mitigating the sense of loss of control for employees goes long way towards maintaining productivity and profits. There will always be some employees who are especially inflexible and resistant to change. That’s just the nature of their personalities. But the more you can create a culture of trust, that you’ve got their backs, and that you’re all in it together, the more likely your organization will be able to adjust and thrive when things change.
And more change is coming. Get ready for 2014.