Facilitators have a tough job during the change management process. They have to balance the needs of the company or agency against the perceptions employees have of change that, many times, is already occurring. The job of the facilitator is to find a way to create a safe space for sharing feelings, ideas and fears about the change while also creating an environment to share valuable information. Additionally, any good facilitator will take the information employees give them and try to find ways to empower and encourage them to work within the process to gain ownership over a few changes that matter to them. But before we can create responsibility for change in employees, we have to ensure the space is safe to share ideas and feelings.
Confidentiality and anonymity play a large role in gathering qualitative feedback. You may find that many employees will not give any feedback in group settings due to a fear that someone will relay to management what they said during the meeting. If employees have had experience with bad change management, or the organizational culture is not built on trust and transparency, facilitation can be more difficult. Simply put, employees can have a fear of reprisal or mistrust before facilitation has even started. Employees’ reluctance to share their ideas and feelings is a missed opportunity to gather data, relieve stress and explore fully what the change means to all employees. How do we obtain feedback, maintain anonymity in a group setting and share valuable information at the same time?
As a facilitator of change, what can you do to safeguard the feedback of individual employees while creating discussion? There is a unique interactive method for facilitators to use when trying to solicit feedback from employees about challenges and solutions.
1. Facilitate key groups.
Open sharing is impacted if management is in the room during the meeting. Facilitate key groups at the same time: Invite non-supervisory employees to one session and managers and supervisors to a separate session.
2. Create an interactive environment.
Group participants into tables of four to six. This organization will keep discussions in small groups. Place stacks of multicolored sticky notes at the center of each table for writing ideas or thoughts. Supply pens and a handy “cheat sheet” of talking points.
3. Use visuals to stay on task.
Place blank posters around the room with discussion topics as headers (i.e., “HR Changes,” “Facilities Changes,” etc.). Participants will use their sticky notes to write their ideas, feelings or fears under each topic of discussion. Next, they will write the solutions or changes that they’d like to occur or participate in under the same topic.
4. Preserve anonymity.
Ensure that all tables are invited at the same time to post their notes, or have one spokesperson for each group post the group’s notes on the poster to preserve anonymity.
5. Facilitate an open discussion of the notes.
This step is where your facilitator skills will come in handy. Review each poster with the participants, grouping similar points together and adding more notes for those who feel comfortable enough to discuss openly. These categories will serve not only as the foundation to your research but also as a roadmap to your action planning recommendations for leadership.
By maintaining the anonymity of participants, you will be more apt to receive unconventional ideas and honest feedback that relay the current pulse of the employees’ feelings about the change. You can use the data you gather not only to report to leadership what areas need additional education or communication but also to give employees an opportunity to gain ownership over some area of change that affects them. When this tool is used with private industry, the military and federal employees, the overall consensus shows an excitement to share, work together and take an active role in changes occurring within the business. In the end, the empowered – and protected – employees can help guide change management through good facilitation techniques.