“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft

American companies are facing significant uncertainty over the next several years, from new regulations to the potential for more changes from the new administration. How can you help your organization be ready for whatever’s coming?

While modern organizations require training for employees at all levels, many miss the benefit of training their employees for dealing with change. Oddly enough, it is possible to prepare for the unknown. You can make sure your employees are equipped with the tools they’ll need to weather upheavals in the future.

“Knowing how to innovate and manage change will soon become a job requirement,” reported Forbes five years ago. “The new workplace requires everyone to lead and/or coordinate change in some shape or form – but very few have been formally trained to assure that it is effectively implemented.”

Here are six tips for surviving change in the workplace.

1. Accept that change is inevitable.

It’s much better to put your energy toward understanding and embracing change rather than fighting it or ignoring it. Set the expectation that changes will happen and that management will be there to teach, coach and mentor through whatever upheaval it may bring. And mean it!

2. Understand what it will take.

Once you’ve accepted change, you must digest its requirements. Spend time reading and learning as much as you can, and ensure that all relevant employees thoroughly understand the change before implementation. Once you can see all the gaps you need to fill, you can determine what knowledge you need to share and reinforce. Arm employees with the information they need, but don’t overwhelm them with tomes to read and pages to memorize. Keep it simple.

3. Fill the gaps.

Once you’ve identified where changes need to be made and what it will take to get there, you’ll need to begin the processes of training, reinforcement and accountability.

Training should involve all employees from the beginning and give them time to digest the information. Use employees’ existing knowledge to move to the next level. If you need to develop new forms, remember your best experts are the people who fill them out every day. Filling gaps with the buy-in and expertise of those who will live and breathe the solutions everyday creates a culture of inclusion and collaboration at all levels. Vacuums are only good for sucking up dust and debris. They are horrible at breathing new life into your continuous improvement efforts.

Training can no longer be periodic. It has to be nurtured and reinforced continuously. Extending learning opportunities from the classroom onto the job encourages knowledge retention and practical application of that knowledge. Encourage application through solid, constructive, corrective feedback, and recognize with positive reinforcement the great behaviors you want to instill. Praise, recognition and even something as simple as a “thumbs-up” from a supervisor to a team member are powerful. Coaching, using posters and digital signage, and providing mini-lessons during a huddle are also effective reinforcement tools to help manage change and close gaps.

Recognize that habits are hard to break. An important aspect of any training program is accountability. By providing an upfront understanding of consequences, you are setting up your employees, facility and company for success. The old adage “you get what you expect” rings true when it comes to training programs and changing behaviors. We are all creatures of habit, and it sometimes takes a while to break an old habit and form a new one. Set consequences appropriately, and stick to them!

4. Raise the bar.

Now that you’ve created new standards, your expectations need to stay there, with no exceptions. Work with people to break bad habits and encourage the good ones. As you raise expectations, remember that both people and organizations need a ramp-up time. Trying to go from zero to 100 right away is dangerous and does not lead to sustainable change. For large endeavors, break goals into small, bite-size chunks that logically build on each other. Using a step-by-step approach encourages continuous improvement and builds strong change management mindsets. Train at each step, and verify that those changes are implemented.

5. Measure your success.

There are a number of ways to gauge success. Did you fill in the gaps? How consistent is your success? What measurements are you using now? Are your metrics objective or subjective? If you can quantify your results, all the better. Numbers are universally understood and easily communicated using graphs, charts or other quick visuals. Metrics help show progress, provide a roadmap for pivots, give visibility to achievements and help to close the loop on any change management processes.

Make any display of metrics easy to understand. Eye charts are for eye doctors – a page full of numbers alone can be hard to understand. Red, yellow, and green indicators; simple charts and graphs; and even smile and frown faces can be quickly digested. Teach your employees what the metrics represent, and encourage their participation, feedback and enthusiasm as those metrics are updated.

6. Don’t stop there.

Focus on continuous improvements; don’t simply collect data. Be sure to enact new plans that target where you want to further improve performance, and measure to make sure the changes were effective.

Continuous improvement, just like training, is a journey, not a destination. And the journey will never end. Make it fun, measure and celebrate successes, close gaps, and build a change-embracing culture.

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