Breaking old habits or learning new ones is hard for some people. This can be challenging in the workplace if employees have been doing the same routine for a long time and are uncomfortable with anything they perceive to be disruptions---or even threats---to job security. Their willingness to adapt to change depends largely on how changes are presented to them in written policies and procedures.
Determining If Change Is Necessary
A popular axiom suggests if something isn't broken, it doesn't need fixing. In the workplace, however, a stagnant environment that clings to the old way of doing things "just because" is going to fall behind the competition if it doesn't stay abreast of ideas, trends and technological advances that could help it perform better. These include factors such as state-of-the-art equipment, merging, outsourcing and even downsizing to better manage resources. Prior to proposing new policies and procedures, it's critical to assess how these will directly and indirectly benefit the company, how long it will take to fully integrate them into existing operations and mindsets, what the proposed changes will cost and what the consequences will be if the company does nothing at all.
Relevance and Participation
Human beings of any age generally dislike being told what to do, especially if they think they're being ordered to do something without a good reason. Further, if their opinions on the subject weren't asked for in advance, there's a higher likelihood they'll put up resistance because they think the powers that be---whether it's parents, spouses or bosses---don't respect them. If, for instance, you want your front office personnel to start taking company-sponsored Spanish language classes, they need to see the connection between this new skill set and their interactions with Spanish-speaking clientele who will subsequently generate more business, increase company profits and result in raises, bonuses and higher commissions. While it's not always practical or advisable to put every new rule up to a committee vote, soliciting employee feedback and ideas on an ongoing basis better enables managers to anticipate their workers' reactions to transitional policies and procedures.
Delivering the Message
Whether you're introducing a new policy regarding office security or providing training materials on how to operate a new piece of equipment, you need to not only decide how the information will be packaged and disseminated, but also how its effectiveness will be measured. If it's a policy change, for example, you need to decide whether it will be in a memo format, communicated by email or accessed from an internal website that employees routinely check for company updates and announcements. The method you choose depends on the size of the office, the urgency of the problem and the ability of the workers to take responsibility. If it's a procedural document, you need to decide whether it will be text-only, text with graphics or text with photographs. The approach you choose will be based on the complexity of the task and material as well as the intellect of the target readers. The measurement of the new policy or procedure's success will be quantitative or qualitative based on quarterly increments. A new rule might also be tried out on a pilot program basis or broken into smaller segments to gradually ease workers into a different routine, as opposed to a radical change that happens overnight. Example: The transition to a "paperless office" would start out with workers learning to operate scanning equipment, reducing the number of copies physically being filed and then eliminating file cabinets altogether.
When you announce a new policy that "Casual Friday" is being cancelled in order to polish the company's image, your expectation is that employees will look more professional the next Friday you see them. If they're still dressing casually, however, it's either a product of their simply forgetting the new policy went into effect (sometimes the learning curve can be slow) or a willful decision on their part to ignore it. If your written policy fails to include any mention of how the the new rule will be enforced, it's going to be hard to get anyone to take it seriously. In drafting a section pertinent to consequences, it's important that you review the language with a rep from HR and/or an attorney to make sure that (1) the discipline is appropriate, (2) the discipline is consistent with labor union laws, (3) the language is clear and easy to understand and (4) the discipline is reasonable and will not disrupt the flow of work. For example, an employee might be delighted to read that "anyone who violates the Friday dress code will be sent home immediately to change" (especially if getting out of work for an hour or two was exactly what he wanted anyway).
Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.