Six Winning Strategies to Train Through Change

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I’m sure at some point, you’ve heard about the “good ole days” when employees were hired by a company straight out of school, and stayed with that company until they retired. Some would start at the bottom and work their way to the top, while others were content to stay in the same role year after year, with little change in their job role and skills. At the time, this system was a win-win, providing security for both the employee and the employer—and for the majority of the 20th century, it worked.

Yet the pace of change is increasing rapidly. The average half-life of any skill has dwindled to only five ears, and organizations find they are pressured to revamp due to globalization, emerging technologies, and increased competition. As a result, both employers and employees alike are finding their working relationships shortening significantly. Change can be uncomfortable, even scary, for employees, and often employees will choose to leave the organization when the amount of change exceeds their comfort level. As change is necessary, and employee turnover is costly, many training departments are finding they need to integrate change management tactics into their planning.

Change management focuses on successfully transitioning a company and its employees to a desired future state. It could be something as simple as moving to a new software, or as complicated as shifting the core values of the business. Regardless of the magnitude of the change, change management often relies heavily on training to update and retain employees throughout the shift. That said, change management is a delicate process. Imposing new skills onto employees can result in hostility, particularly if the goals of the company are not aligned with the personal goals of the employee.

To be successful, change management takes a multifaceted approach from three different perspectives: The content of the change (what type of change is it?), the process of the change (how will the change be implemented?), and the people in the change (who is affected by the change?)

To effectively institute a training program focused on fostering and supporting change in your company, here are five best practices to consider.

5 Best Training Practices to Consider

Anticipate Change

By planning for the upcoming changes, the training team can help their employees understand and be prepared for the changes before the changes take effect. Think through the three perspectives listed above. If there’s a new software rolling out, have resources available for your employees ahead of time, such as elearning courses and quick reference guides. Change can often be disorienting, so offering your employees a clear compass to help them through the transition is invaluable.

Facilitate a Culture of Learning

Training often comes across as “putting skills into people”, versus creating a desire to learn. A culture of learning that gives employees a voice in what they can learn and how they can learn ultimately makes people more adaptable and ready for change when it comes. Employees are also more likely to seek out resources to assist them if they’re struggling with changes.

Create an Advocacy Team

Involve employees who wield power (either formal or informal) within the organization, to help create buy-in across the organization. These people, particularly those who will be faced with implementing the changes, will have invaluable insights into the best way to support the people and the organization through the change process. They can also recommend information and/or trainings that should be disseminated across the organization.

Communicate Relentlessly

Especially during times of significant change, employees can easily become fearful and overwhelmed. By developing a communication strategy and keeping your messaging consistent and persistent, you can assuage fears and calm your employees. But remember, there’s no perfect way to communicate change!

Cross-Train Employees

Recall the win-win situation I mentioned in the opening paragraph? Cross-training offers a modern win-win scenario by providing employees with a diverse set of skills, while providing employers with an agile and versatile workforce. Essentially cross-training means that employees are familiar enough with each other’s roles and responsibilities that should an employee depart, other members of the team can step in during the interim, without exacerbating the effects of the organizational changes. Not only does cross-training lead to more sustainable business practices, but employees are able to develop new skills. This prevents employees from feeling that their skills are becoming obsolete, allows them to see the bigger picture, and build relationships with employees they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.  Additionally, cross-trained employees are more likely to respond positively to changes within the company, as they are connected to roles and departments beyond their own, and therefore feel more secure in their jobs.

Prepare for Aftershocks

It is difficult to determine the impact of any given change, and often there will be smaller, unforeseen issues that arise. For example, what happens when the first round of new employees arrive who are not aware things were ever done differently? What sort of interactions will take place between veterans and new hires? Your change management plan should account for the unknown by providing a grace period for a good length of time after a shift has occurred. Provide opportunities for employees to provide feedback, and evaluate how the change will impact their roles and responsibilities through one-on-one or small group meetings. If employees feel their voice is being heard, not only are they more likely to accept change more quickly, but your company gathers valuable feedback to make further improvements.

The ever-changing economy doesn’t have to alienate your workforce, as long as you actively take steps to manage the change, and offer your employees opportunities to learn the skills they need to meet new goals. No one will tell you that change is easy, but these change management techniques help your company and your employees to weather the storm intact. This allows your company to realize the benefits of the changes without inadvertent casualties, creating a bright future that overshadows those “good ole days.”

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