Change the Way You Deal with Change
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Change is a fact of life. When something’s not working or there’s a better option, change is necessary. Unfortunately, it is rarely easy. Change is emotional. So if you are going to make a change in your office you can bet that your employees will balk when faced with a disruption to their routines. That can make it very difficult to try and introduce changes, even small ones.
What I have observed about dental leaders is that they think about making changes well in advance of executing any action. This rational, analytical approach is consistent with a practical personality style. Then, when they finally decide to implement the change, they want to move at top speed. What is often forgotten is that it will take employees as much if not more time to embrace it. And trying to make a change without staff buy-in is a recipe for disaster.
When employees are not involved or kept informed of changes, they lose motivation. They wonder if there is a hidden agenda about why you are making the change. Even worse, the trust link between you and your team is threatened.
You may deliver the “it’s-going-to-be-better” speech to the staff. Or perhaps you use the “we-need-to-make-this-change-to-survive” version. These pep talks often do not inspire people. Remember that change and transition go hand-in-hand. “Change” is an event, but “transition” is a psychological process of adaptation to the change. Here are some basics to instill commitment, not just compliance.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Sharing your ideas early on gives you the opportunity for a ‘reality check’ to see where the pockets of resistance may be in advance. Based on employee reactions you can develop a strategy around the change process. Most importantly, explain the ‘why’ behind your plans for doing something new. For example, don’t announce that there will be a new recall system. Instead, voice your concerns about the holes in the schedule and the lost productivity. Tell your team that you are exploring solutions and invite them to make suggestions. Getting employees involved in solving problems increases their commitment.
2. Expect and Embrace Resistance
Human beings are creatures of habit and we like doing things the same way. Change takes people out of their comfort zone. It’s normal that some employees will resist, come to work with a chip on their shoulder, and/or make negative remarks. Encourage your staff to talk openly about what they are feeling and thinking, and listen patiently. Skepticism is a natural step in the change process. The more you can bring it out in the open the better for you in the long run. Hold meetings and let your staff air their grievances and doubts. In the course of those discussions you might even find more workable solutions to the problems you want to overcome. A calm tone and open style will reflect sensitivity. Beware…if you try to suppress the feelings, the emotions will go underground and that will become a passive-aggressive nightmare.
3. Be Patient, Empathize and Provide Training
Your employees are unlikely to change as quickly as you think they should. Give your staff time to understand and assimilate the first wave of change before introducing more. There are some dental leaders who prefer to make ‘macro’ changes rather than several small ones. They want to get the disruption over and move forward. Unfortunately, that’s akin to throwing someone in the deep end of the pool to learn how to swim. Most people are shocked by any major change. The bigger the change, the bigger the shock. Be supportive. Accept that mistakes will happen as employees learn new procedures. Celebrate small successes. An empathetic approach helps everyone, including you.
4. Tune-In to Individual Difficulties
Recognize that change affects each person differently. Some employees are more adaptable than others. Top performers may roll up their sleeves to make things work, moving out of their comfort zone instantly. Others might be completely overwhelmed. Let them know you understand the challenges they are facing and that you are there to help them through it. Again, remember the importance of open communication. Check in with staff members frequently. Ask how they are doing and what you can do to assist them. Keep your door open to allow people to come in and discuss their concerns or apprehensions.
5. Be a Role Model
It is up to you as the dental leader to maintain employee morale through change. During tough times people will always watch how their leader is acting. Set the tone and be an example for others to follow. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to your attitude. You have to be up. Meeting the demands placed upon people during the change process requires managing job pressure for yourself and others. Reduce the stress by keeping an effort to maintain high morale.
It takes time and perseverance to win the hearts and minds of your employees to change. Be prepared for a range of emotions, thoughts, agreements and disagreements. After all, you probably experienced similar reactions when you initially contemplated the change. By adjusting your own perspectives and actions, you can help employees to follow your lead.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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