Most of us convince ourselves that we love the excitement of trying new things. The reality is, though, we’re often creatures of habit and we don’t like to change. That’s especially true when we’ve been doing our jobs the same way for as long as we can remember. It can be tough to adapt. And as a contractor, it can be even tougher to get our crews to change, too.
As tradespeople, we often fall into the cliché “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” After all, what could really be new in putting up four walls, a floor, and a roof? The same basic techniques have survived for as long as we care to remember.
Any number of factors require us to make adjustments. Some have to do with the trade itself and the materials we use. Others may be new legal and safety requirements. Still others may be for the sake of profitability. In any case, though, it’s important to help your team understand what’s being changed and why.
You might face reluctance and even resistance when you try to alter practices or policy. It can create tension that has the potential of hurting your business, even. But there are some steps you can take to help make the transition smoother for yourself and everyone else.
Understand the Change Yourself
Some changes are imposed from outside, although others come from within the company itself. But in any case, it’s essential that you, as the owner, manager or team leader, understand the changes that are being made.
That can have both a technical and a personal aspect to it. On the technical side, what exactly is going to change? Will it be a major disruption to the way things “have always been done”? Is new equipment or technology involved? Are there “hidden” effects of the change? How much time will the change save (or waste)? Asking questions like these will help you comprehend what’s really happening.
On the more personal side, it’s key to recognize that making a change requires people to change, too. What’s the real effect on employees and on yourself? Will more training be required, and if so, who is going to do it?
Any change requires a learning curve, even if it’s as simple as moving a sign-in register to a different desk. You need to be able to communicate it and allow a suitable amount of time for everyone to adjust.
Recognize It’s Tough
Knowing what is changing and all that it implies can help make you realize that it may not be easy for everyone. That difficulty can be something minor, like remembering where the key to the tool closet is kept now. Or it could feel threatening – like a move to automate some part of the job that could make some people feel like their job could be in danger.
You could walk into a meeting and announce what’s going to be different from now on and expect everyone to conform automatically. However, that’s not going to make for an easy adjustment.
Instead, be upfront and realistic about what’s going on and why. If you’re comfortable with the change, say so and let them know why. But if you’re apprehensive, too, it’s ok to say that as well and admit it’s going to take you some time to adjust, as well. That level of honesty and the sense that “we’re all in this together” can smooth out some rough patches.
If there are aspects of the change that are going to affect certain people in a larger way, sit down with them and explain what’s going on. Talk about its implications for their job and what your long-range plan is. Remember that one of the reasons that change is scary is that often we don’t know what’s going to happen next!
Talk About The “Why” Behind the Adjustment
Policies, procedures, and techniques undergo revisions all the time. Some make sense; some make life easier. More than a few might seem arbitrary – but where there has to be some rule, sometimes it does have to be drawn on a relatively arbitrary point.
When you’re the one dictating the change, explain the reason behind it. Whether it’s new suppliers, schedules, or techniques, you’ve chosen to do it because you think it will create better results. Understanding why will help make it easier for your employees to digest.
If it’s something you’re “forced” into – for instance, new zoning regulations, changes your bank makes, or laws passed, then explain that, too. If you know why the changes were made, that’s great. If not, it’s fine to say who made them and that you don’t know why, but you don’t have a choice but to follow.
Change can be a good thing when it’s done with a rationale. There’s rarely a need for that rationale to be kept secret, so be willing to share it with the people who will have to live with its effects. Even if they struggle with adapting, at least they’ll know it’s not being done just to make life difficult.
Be Patient And Sympathetic
Even as you go through all these steps to make change easier, don’t forget it’s still going to take time and effort for others to adjust. No matter how good the reasons are, change is just hard.
Yes, it’s true that you may have to insist on the new way of doing things. But at the same time, don’t be so rigid that you lose sight of the fact that real people are the ones implementing it – people who already have habits, preferences, and their own goals .
It’s fine to say, “I know it’s tough to adjust” or “I understand it’s a struggle”, while still insisting that it has to be done. As far as possible, make reasonable accommodations. The definition of “reasonable” may vary, of course, and can depend on how big the change is, too. But not everyone is going to get it right away. Try to show understanding and recognize that most people aren’t sticking to the old ways out of spite.
Each case is going to be different. With some new ways of doing the job, you’ll have to be more insistent, especially when they relate to safety procedures. And sometimes, there will be certain individuals who will try to work against you. In those cases, you do have a right, maybe even a responsibility, to put your foot down. But hopefully those are rare situations.
But during the normal course of events, a little understanding and patience go a long way to helping change take hold.
Change is never easy, but it’s often necessary. To help your team adjust to changes that are being implemented, it’s important to be upfront with them. Explain what will be different and why, and help them make the transition while showing a level of understanding. With your guidance, the new way of doing things – whether you’re imposing it or it’s imposed on you – will take root. It may not happen overnight, but you’ll soon see the effects!