Unfortunately, many of us in our careers have had first-hand experience with a workplace that was slowly hemorrhaging from a wound of its own making. Whether it was massive turnover, disastrous customer relations or dismal attempts to meet quota, everyone from the CEO to the part-time employee knew that things were headed south fast. So the question is, what do we do? When we can see the wreck that waits in our future, how do we turn things around? In this article, we will walk through three steps for initiating workplace change.
1. Identify the root, not the symptom
This first step is the most vital. We have to take time to do our research. It can involve asking some of the following questions. When did the problems begin? Are there other branches of this business that aren’t facing the issue? If so, look into what that department is doing differently. Also, we should not just ask the leadership questions, but also check with the employees who are dealing with these issues every day. While they might not have the big picture view, employees do have a close-up view of the day-to-day details. This information can provide vital data points that otherwise would be missing, and render the whole reboot attempt useless.
Additionally, approach this step with the awareness that there may be more than one pain point. For example, if high turnover is the problem and other departments pay employees X amount more per hour, it would be tempting to move forward with this solution alone. However, talking to employees could reveal a toxic work environment; and talking to management, in turn, might reveal inconsistent demands and expectations in the workplace. As these concerns are balanced and considered, the solution could require a multi-step approach.
2. Recruit leadership to the cause
In step two, it is time to secure the powers that function in the day-to-day of the employees. Who are the leaders we will lean on as we implement change? Is it going to be one specific department or a certain level of management across all departments, or is there another leadership group that is best for the job? Answering this question requires some consideration into the willingness and steadfastness of the individuals, and the sway they have over others. We can’t be a one-person force for change. We need people in our corner, so we must pick people who will engage with these problems and bring others to join the cause.
3. Demonstrate investment to employees
The final step in stopping this wreck is to get the whole crew on board. Unfortunately, since this isn’t a literal ship that is about to crash, it is not as simple as saying, “Help me, or we will all die!” Life or death does have a way of motivating people, but unless we are dealing with health and safety, we will need a different approach. The key is determining why others should care. Does it affect them if turnover is high? Does it affect them if they don’t make a quota? Again, it isn’t necessarily the big picture of the business’s stocks and future, but their personal vision of creating a better workplace. Make it about their work environment, their safety, their income, their time, etc.
And additionally, remind them that they were a part of this solution from the beginning. These changes are an attempt to solve the problems they struggle with every day. We need to follow this up by keeping that line of communication open as these changes are implemented. As stubborn humans, we are all tempted to refuse new protocols and buck against “the system.” However, if the employees recognize that they are members of the organization and are heard, needed and appreciated, bucking the system is neither necessary nor desirable.
The path to workplace change is not for the faint of heart. However, if we are willing to do the work and listen to all parties involved, there can be hope for creating system-wide change — and saving a business that is dancing on the edge of destruction. It may take time to implement these changes, but the difference is fantastic. So don’t be afraid to let people know that you care. I hope today we can step out bravely, ask the hard questions, and be the problem-solvers in all areas of our lives.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.