Tips for supporting workplace policy changes
As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we’re often called upon to help our organizations train employees on new policies or procedures. Change isn’t anything new, and is a constant in all organizations, but we’re often unprepared for it. A great deal of thought goes into the “brand new thing,” but how to best guide staff to adopt those changes is often an afterthought. And an abrupt introduction of a new policy and procedure can have a negative impact on the workplace. Properly implemented change management can greatly reduce those negative effects.
Learning and development can also help make the transition from old way to new way easier for everyone by including change management techniques in the training plan. In this article, I am going to show you some techniques you can borrow from the world of change management to help your training have a lasting impact.
Proactively address employee questions and concerns, showcasing benefits to the individual
Effective change management depends on solid communication across multiple layers of an organization, providing a business case for the change and explaining who is affected and how. When rolling out a new policy or procedure, the first and most important thing you can do is to address your learner’s questions and concerns. These are questions like: Why do we have to do this? Why is the company making this change? What happens if I don’t follow this new policy/procedure? All of these are common questions that need to be answered. It is a good idea to address these concerns at the very beginning of your training. Otherwise, they could distract your learners from paying attention to what you are attempting to share with them.
This is called the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) principle, and it is a good idea to include this any time your training addresses changes to a known policy or procedure. Doing this will give your learners an opportunity to address their personal questions and fears before they begin trying to assimilate the new information.
Let’s say a company is rolling out a new timekeeping program. The company is going from an old-style time clock to an online timekeeping solution. Ask yourself (or better yet, ask your management), how might employees benefit from the change? Too often change focuses on what’s good for those (such as management) who are implementing the change, with the assumption that good employees will do what they’re told. However, failing to show employees how change benefits them misses a grand opportunity to help them align their desires with what the company needs to accomplish.
Here’s an example of a few WIIFM points that may be relevant to the above scenario:
- There’s now no need to stop by the time clock every morning, your sign-on to your computer counts as your clock-in.
- You can see a running total of your time each day.
- You can send requests for time off to your manager directly, no separate form required.
- You can check your PTO balance anytime.
- You can view your W2 and W4 through the timekeeping system.
By showing your learners how the new procedure will benefit them, you are more likely to gain and keep their attention as you walk them through training. Additionally, if the learners see the benefits of the new procedure, they are more apt to comply with the new policy or procedure.
Be as transparent as possible about “negative” change; providing reasons further respects your trainees
One thing to bear in mind is if the new policy or procedure has the potential to hurt employee morale, you need to be honest with your audience. Trying to put a happy face on an adverse change won’t make your audience more accepting. In fact, it will make your job harder, as the audience will see through the ruse and be even more resistant to the change.
If the new policy or procedure could be seen as negative from an employee perspective, like losing a benefit or requiring overtime, be as honest as your management team will allow you to be. If you can, clearly explain why the company has made the decision and what it means for the employees themselves. You cannot make bad news good news, but you can reduce the negative impacts and resistance by being honest and open with your learners. If the company insists on a positive spin, then acknowledge the change and explain the reasons for the change as far as you can. Every company has varying levels of openness with their employees, so you may need to discuss what you can and cannot reveal with the management team.
For example, I worked for a company that offered commuter reimbursement in the form of a monthly check we could use to buy bus passes or pay for other transit-related costs. Each month we simply had to swing by the front desk, show our ID, and pick-up a check. In a change of policy, the company announced that we would have to pay for our expenses out of pocket and submit our receipts for reimbursements through the accounting department, and the money would be added to our regularly scheduled paychecks.
The employees saw this as a disruption to their routines and an extra strain on their budgets. In addition, they’d have to take extra steps to get their reimbursements and use a computer system which they weren’t familiar with.
In this instance, the employees weren’t given the reasoning behind the change and were resistant. It wasn’t until the company president sent an email to all staff explaining why the company had changed the procedures (the company was losing a lot of money using the old method, and they would rather put the money to better use by increasing our bonuses at the end of the year) that the employees began to get on board with the new program. The company then went on to host several training sessions where the company provided lunch and reviewed the reimbursement tool for any employee who wasn’t familiar with using the system.
While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to completely eliminate confusion, anger, and mistrust arising from change, the disruption in this case could have been mitigated by beginning the switchover process with the letter explaining the change and training opportunities before cutting off the old way of doing things.
After sharing benefits and reasons, incorporate practice sessions and demos
With any change, a good strategy would be:
- Introduce the change
- Explain the reasoning behind it
- Answer employee questions
- Conduct the training on the change
As the L&D person you may be responsible for all of the steps, or you may have the management team handle the initial introduction while you step in at a later phase during the rollout. Every company and every manager is different, so work with your management team to plan the rollout.
To get the most out of your training, you’ll want to include not only the What’s In It For Me discussion and an opportunity for the learners to ask questions about the change, but also an opportunity to practice the steps the employees will need to follow to adhere to the new policy or procedure.
Following the example of implementing an online timekeeping solution, give your learners a chance to work with the system before they are expected to start entering their time for real. Telling someone how to do something is rarely as effective as allowing them to practice the skill. If at all possible, allow the learners to do some hands-on work with the tool. This practice will allow them an opportunity to see the system in action, and it will help you discover any areas that may need reinforcement, and tell you how to update content for future classes. Plus, research supports practice testing as one of the most effective means to promote learner retention.
If using a live version of a tool (perhaps in a practice area, or “sandbox”) is not feasible, you may consider using a simulation. Gamification is an excellent option that gives learners a “safe place to fail,” but even a limited simulation will provide more benefit to the students than an entirely passive demonstration. Don’t think that your demonstration must be online—screenshots in a PowerPoint can be a useful tool. Whatever option you go with, try to engage your learners by asking questions.
Provide timely and practical follow up for long-term success
What can you do to keep the new knowledge fresh in your learners’ minds until they have internalized it? A follow-up plan is essential.
In terms of our time keeping example, a cheat sheet that the learners can keep on their desks as a reference until they are comfortable with the system may be helpful. You can expect most of your learners to transfer the skill of entering their daily time fairly quickly, but tasks they do less often (like requesting time off or entering holidays) may not transfer as easily as skills that are done on a daily basis. A cheat sheet can be a big help when your learners need to perform these occasional tasks.
You’ll also want to engage the learner’s supervisors or managers to ensure they monitor and support learners in the transition process. This may be something as simple as asking the supervisor to check-in with the employees every week for the first few weeks, or as complex as developing a company-wide contest where the learners can compete for recognition or prizes.
You may also want to consider hosting a series of follow-up meetings with learners, so you can address any questions or issues that may have arisen since the initial rollout. These meetings can be valuable tools not only for the learners, but also for you as an L&D specialist. Learners can share their experiences and learn from one another, while you can gain insights into how well your initial training design worked, taking note of any lessons learned for the next change effort that you’re a part of.
Change management + training = smooth transitions
Change to a policy or procedure in a work environment has the potential to be disruptive. By incorporating solid change management principles, including good communication, and a strong training plan, you can make the transition smoother for everyone involved.
Would hiring a learning and development company help your company manage changes in your organization or help you reach your performance goals? It’s certainly possible, and there are several good reasons to consider outsourcing your training development—whether in whole or in part. Contact us—we’d be happy to walk through your situation with you.
Image Credit: Change, by Amman Wahab Nizamani – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0