How to Announce Big Changes Without Creating New Problems
The old adage that no one likes change is a cliche for a reason, but there are ways to prevent the inevitable fallout from a big announcement. A few weeks ago, I announced that we were splitting my 15-person team into two teams and everyone’s desks were going to be switched around. I anticipated this change was going to be distracting from our work and potentially frustrating for some employees, so I took the following precautions to prevent larger issues with our company.
1. Get buy-in from top performers first.
Getting some of your staff on board before making a big change can prevent lots of problems down the road. The day before our weekly team meeting, I pulled in my two senior employees, showed them the plan and told them what I was going to announce the next day. I told them why I thought it was necessary and that I needed their help to sell it to the rest of the team.
They had questions and concerns, and I did my best to help them feel heard. More than anything, I wanted them to see how this could potentially help them do their jobs better, and that it was a change made with them, not to them. At the end of our discussion, I mentioned that they were welcome to provide me feedback as the change was implemented.
It’s important that you have a few people who are already on board with the changes who can help the rest of your team adjust accordingly. It will also help to establish trust with your senior employees if they aren’t caught off guard.
2. Get to the “why” quickly.
I didn’t start by launching into the change, but instead I reminded them that we had a problem we’ve been trying to solve and a purpose we’ve been creating as a team for some time. I talked through the other changes we’ve implemented to date and walked through how those changes have already helped us as a team.
I then transitioned to tell them what I was hoping would be accomplished with the change and that we could all be open to new ideas as we make this change together. I talked about how we are shifting our culture to be more focused on innovation, and we’re all having to adapt.
As you map out the change you’re announcing, make sure that your people understand why it’s happening, and be honest. Like Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do but why you do it.”
3. Acknowledge that change is tough.
When I rolled out the plan to the whole team, I mentioned that I totally understood why this would be annoying and frustrating to them. I told them that a few years ago, I was in their shoes when a management team had a brilliant idea to make everyone do something they didn’t want to do that really upset me. I reminded them that my door is always open if they wanted to discuss the shift.
By just saying that you understand that change is tough, you avoid people getting defensive or thinking that you're saying they have to get on board or get out. It also helps show that you’ve thought about them and the fallout from the change.
4. Check in.
A few days after the big switch, I followed up on Slack and in my weekly 1:1s with my direct reports to see how they were doing with the change. It was interesting to see that many of them had forgotten about it, but a few appreciated the forum to vent about it a bit.
I have also pointed to this change as they have acknowledged the positive outcomes of it, which has required constant focus from myself and our leadership team. I didn’t want the team to forget why this all happened in the first place. By doing so, you avoid your employees thinking that changes like this are only important the day they're announced.
Change is inevitable, and one of the most frustrating aspects of startup culture is that big changes happen fast and often. But with a little thoughtful preparation, your team will avoid the common pitfalls of haphazard announcements that leave employees upset and uninspired.