Do people fear transformation?
Some yes, some no; but by-and-large people do not fear transformation. They may, however, dread imagined outcomes of a transformation. Even if they understand the need.
Transformation and change are inevitable in any organization. Whether due to market conditions, technological advances, or internal restructuring companies must adapt to remain competitive and successful; governments reinvent their relevance from time to time. Still, the changes resulting from transformation can be stressful and challenging for employees, who may feel their jobs, roles, or even identities are threatened.
Reactions to transformation or change vary greatly by individual, type of transformation, and surrounding circumstances. Some people embrace change, seeing it as an opportunity for growth and development. Others may be hesitant—or even resistant, feeling anxious or fearful about the unknown.
There are many reasons why employees may “fear” transformation, including the disruption of familiar routines, the perception of reduced job security (or even loss), and feelings of anxiety or uncertainty. Organizations can help allay such fears by communicating openly, transparently, and tangibly, by involving employees in the process; providing development opportunities, and providing support. These can help employees feel more motivated and resilient in the face of change.
Response to Transformation
Employees, individually and collectively, may dread transformation if they feel their jobs or roles are at risk, they are uncertain about how the changes will impact their daily work, or there is other perceived job insecurity. If the changes are driven by external factors, (market conditions or competition), employees may feel the company is being forced into difficult decisions beyond their control.
Notice this is all about feeling. People feel about the future either (a) how the planned future warrants or, more powerfully, how they imagine the future might unfold. This is the main reason for open, transparent, and tangible communication. We want to avoid (group) imagination taking control.
Employees may also resistant change if they feel (there’s that word again) they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Transformation represents a departure from familiar, comfortable routines. That can lead to worry about how changes will impact their work, relationships with colleagues, and overall sense of stability. Colloquially it’s about “whose ox is being gored.” Anybody that sees themselves as (net) losing somehow in a transformation is likely to dread the outcome.
Employees who feel changes are being imposed upon them without their input or involvement are likely to dread the transformation, especially if they have made a personal imprint on the status quo. An “imprint” can be as large as being an architect of what exists or as small as having made personal customizations.
Bear in mind that not all employees will have a negative reaction to transformation. Some may be excited about the opportunities, responsibilities, or possibility to contribute to a new and innovative direction. It’s important for organizations to be alert to these employees and lever their perspective to influence the imagination of others.
How You Can See “Fear”
Employee dread of transformation can manifest in a number of ways. They may resist the changes, either openly or covertly. They may feel anxious, uncertain, or overwhelmed. Any of which can lead to decreased motivation, productivity, and job satisfaction; never mind increased absenteeism and turnover. This is a core reason to adequately prepare and support employees for and through a transformation: employee mental health and wellbeing on one side, and organizational effectiveness on the other.
What Can The Organization Do?
What can organizations do to help alleviate employee transformation dread?
To address these fears and concerns, organizations can take several steps to help prepare employees for transformation. Communication is key. By keeping employees informed about the changes taking place, why they are necessary, and what the company hopes to achieve, organizations can help limit uncertainty and anxiety. Communication should be ongoing and transparent, and should include opportunities for employees to ask questions, provide feedback, and offer suggestions.
What the organization is really fighting is employee imagination. So tangibility is critical. Anecdotally, it may be better to provide visions and explanations that leave nothing to the imagination—even if unknown, than to be tentative. People will fill in the blanks, and all too often what is used as filler are worst case or other negative scenarios. Note that addressing dread is a personal, not group activity. As hard as it might sound and seem, an effective defense here is one-on-one, not zone.
Another important strategy is to involve employees in the transformation process as much as possible. Not only may this help employees feel like they have a stake in the outcome and that their voices are being heard, participating is itself tangible. Involvement can take many forms, from brainstorming sessions to task forces to cross-functional teams. Involving employees in the process, organizations can benefit from practical expertise, insight, and creativity. Having employees contribute to meaningful “deliverables” is very strong support for the tangibility and personal investment goals.
Training and development opportunities are helpful in preparing employees for transformation. By offering training in new skills or technologies, organizations help employees feel more confident and competent in their (evolving) roles. Development opportunities also signal that the organization is invested in employee long-term, personal success and that there are opportunities for growth and advancement within the organization. Moreover, again, the act of being trained is a tangible step in the progress of the transformation.
Finally, it’s important for organizations to provide support resources to employees throughout the transformation period. This can include access to counseling or coaching, flexible work arrangements, and additional time or resources to complete tasks. By providing support, organizations help employees feel valued and supported in the face of significant change.
Do people fear transformation? They can and will because the forces for doing so are powerful. It is the transformation and change leaders’ role to displace and otherwise neutralize this dread aversion bias.
Institute X is a transformation consultancy and transformation/change leader coaching firm. One of its online presences is The Change Playbook. Be sure to check out the abundance of practical and pragmatic guidance. Subscribe to even a FREE membership to receive notifications of new posts and fresh content.