Navigating Change in the Workplace

Research from Gartner shows that over 80% of organisations navigate change “from the top down,” which means executives are typically the ones to manage change in the workplace. From what we’ve seen, this is the wrong way to go.

The research counted on more than 6,500 employees and over 100 CHROs. Based on their findings, top-level organisations don’t rely on their executives to lead change –  they rely on their workforce, instead.

This may sound counterintuitive to some leaders. Yet, when it comes to change, your employees shouldn’t be mere spectators. They need to know more than simply what’s changing and why. If you want them to take part in the process and advocate for it, they need to be in the front-line.

Of course, all change in the workplace happens for a reason and aims for ultimate success. However, if employees aren’t fully introduced to the reasoning for change and the expected results, they may become anxious and unenthusiastic. They may not know what to expect. And when fear kicks in, decision-making abilities are compromised.

When you’re planning a major transition, especially one that will impact your entire team, it’s essential to educate and engage your team at every step of the way.

Here are some ways to navigate change in the workplace, while helping your employers pave the way.

Let Your Team Know That Change is Inevitable

It’s easy for your team to focus their energy on criticising imminent change – especially if they think that change will negatively impact their position in the organisation.

As a leader, it’s your job to help them remain calm. A lot of the time, change is beyond everyone’s control, and thinking of it as a growth opportunity rather than an obstacle can help them become more confident that things will work out.

Plus, when you take full responsibility for the challenges and encourage everyone’s support with a positive attitude, you suddenly make things more exciting.

Plan and Define

Change becomes less manageable when there isn’t a helpful system in place. A team’s ability to cope depends on how prepared they are to face whatever challenges come their way.

As always, it all starts with proper communication between leaders and team members. In the words of Dr. Jody Aked, an Associate at Ideas Alliance, “having open conversations ahead of impending crises can help teams prepare with solutions on how to minimise damage.”

It’s also necessary to build a tracking system, so that you know what’s working and what should be modified throughout the process. It’s important to answer questions like the following:


  • Who will champion the change? Managers? Determined employees? These should be people who are used to adapting to change quickly, and can train their coworkers in navigating change with confidence.
  • How will the organisation support its employees throughout the transition? What will the support system look like?
  • What will be the role of each employee when navigating change?


The team at Stack Overflow have shared an example that could help teams migrate from one platform to another:

“For instance, if you’re migrating your organisation over to Stack Overflow for Teams, you can ask employees to begin by posting questions that they’d otherwise post on Slack on Teams, and then make incremental changes from there in how they begin to use the tool.”

Speaking of questions: all questions should be answered with the same amount of empathy and detail. If the question has been answered before, kindly guide the employee in question to the answer they seek. If a question is the reason for rebuke, leaders aren’t applying Psychological Safety principles as they should.

Map Out the Necessary Changes

Avoid pinning the change to rigid boundaries and fixed steps. Navigating change is all about flexibility, and about allowing managers and employees to have their say on what the process will look like.

To do that, you’ll have to address processes, goals, set expectations and define tasks – without restricting them to strict rules. Here’s what that means:

Draw an outline that shows what the process of change will entail. Yet, instead of creating a step-by-step roadmap that should be meticulously followed, author for HR Morning Michele McGovern suggests that supervisors “leave that area flexible for input from managers and employees as they roll with the changes.”

When all team members know their participation is crucial for the outcome, they start to see themselves as active collaborators rather than observers.

Conversely, when employees feel like they’re just meant to follow orders to a “T,” their collaborative spirit will wane. They won’t feel like they’re a part of something bigger – they’ll simply do what they’re supposed to do and clock out.

Get Feedback

Change can go unexpectedly well – but it can also turn out badly. Even if plans fall through, expecting setbacks and voicing this possibility early on can help your team prepare for setbacks.

Particularly in the early stages of a transition, leaders need the good, the bad, and the ugly type of feedback. What’s going right? What’s going wrong? What immediate steps can you all take to mitigate problems and find solutions? What long-term steps can you take to prevent similar issues in the future? This will help you engage employees to create an action plan they can implement.

Ask team members for their input. Encourage them to share their ideas. Most importantly, don’t gatekeep information. If your plan encounters any barriers, let them know as soon as possible and ask them for immediate feedback. After all, they’re as much a part of the transition as you are.

Expect Setbacks

The easier way to deal with setbacks is to accept that they will happen, whether they’re minor or major. Running from inevitable detours can only create a negative atmosphere and decrease productivity.

Handling setbacks boils down to communication and resilience. When the whole team is on the same page and level-headed enough to face challenges with an open mind, this can make a difference on how the transition progresses.

To borrow from Dr. Aked, “How well a workplace culture survives these periods entirely depends on its ability to develop resilience — the ability to absorb, adapt and transform.”

Hence, resilience training in combination with Psychological Safety training in the workplace are great solutions for helping teams take on new challenges.

Measure Performance

Measuring performance isn’t only about managing the change itself. It’s also about keeping track of employees’ emotional journey throughout the change.

How are employees adapting to the transition? Is it negatively impacting their mental wellbeing? Is it decreasing their productivity? Are their tasks clear enough?

All of the above questions can be answered with a Psychological Safety assessment. This type of psychometric test will help you understand how workplace changes are affecting your team, as well as what you can do to keep them stable and engaged throughout trying times.

Workplace Changes Become Smoother With the Whole Team On Board

No one said change would be easy. But it’s necessary, and it builds a solid foundation for possibility and success.

If you’d like to make any workplace transition smoother, involving your workforce in the process is the best way to do it. Also, validating and motivating your managers and employees will help them see the opportunities beyond the change.

Let them know their resilience and adaptability are driving the business forward – because that’s the truth. Without them, you’d still be managing change from the top down.

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