Mindset of change: opportunity for staff, practice growth

January 25, 2012

We live in a world that is ever-changing. According to futurist Faith Popcorn, change will continue to accelerate as much in the next 10 years as it has in the last 50, and as much again in the five years after that. According to this theory, if one lives another 15 years, he or she will actually live through 100 years of change. Are practitioners and staff prepared to handle such rapid changes?

Change, whether  planned, unwanted, or unexpected, may occur in the workplace due to mergers, buyouts, downsizing, rightsizing, restructuring, new management, new technology, changing regulations, or significant policy change within a department. Workplace change may initiate fear, frustration, uncertainty and stress for the practitioner and staff.  When the fundamentals of change are understood, a new mindset of change occurs. Change will be embraced, viewed not as the enemy, but as an opportunity for staff and practice growth. 

Why is there resistance to change? According to Neuropathways magazine, there is a brain function called neuroplasticity that “allows your brain to create and strengthen new neuropathways for any task that you practice, such as increasing your intelligence, developing new physical abilities, or transforming self-limiting emotional habits and perceptions. As different brain parts become connected, this helps you experience and memorize all the details of whatever new thing you are practicing, and over time you can do this new thing without effort.”

People want to hold onto the old way of doing things because the neuropathways are already established and allow them to easily perform an activity and have an overall sense of comfort. Change forces the brain to move outside of its “comfort zone” and establish new neuropathways in order to do things differently. Change interrupts the connection and results in an uncomfortable feeling and creates a physiological resistance to change.

When change is necessary, management will need to consider not only the physiological response but also that change may trigger emotional responses from staff such as fear, frustration, stress, or even excitement. They may wonder how the change is going to have a personal impact on them. Do they have the skills required for the new change? Will they lose any decision-making privileges, have an interruption in their routine, or have to terminate established relationships? 

Staff may understand the need for change, but underestimate their “change” abilities. Some may feel threatened by the change and strongly resist. Others may feel the change is a positive opportunity and only need a little encouragement and support during the process.

Before introducing change, it is important for management to recognize and expect there will be resistance to it from staff. Measures should be taken to help staff overcome their fears and other emotions, making the transition of change much easier.

Introducing change: communication is vital

The means by which management introduces change to staff is critical to a successful outcome. Never underestimate the power of communication. By thoroughly explaining to staff the reasons for the change, and how the change will occur, one will positively influence the impact of the change and add credibility to one’s abilities as a leader.  If practitioners do not “fill in the blanks” for staff, they will do it on their own!  Water cooler and parking lot meetings may communicate misinformation about the change that may hinder positive results.  Keep your staff “in the loop” to ensure correct information is transmitted.

Explain the benefits of the change by providing the necessary information for staff to understand “what’s in it for me.”   Convince staff there’s something in it for them, too.

  • Will the change affect the practice’s bottom line? If so, then provide information on cash flow, cost margins, and other budgetary statistics, explaining how the change will affect them. 
  • Will the change make their jobs easier by working smarter, better, or faster? Provide specific ways the change will produce better efficiency and increase job satisfaction.
  • Will the change improve relationships within the practice?  Communicate how the change will improve connections and customer service between management, patients, and staff.

By providing as much “big picture” information, the practitioner will be creating excitement for the change rather than resistance. Establish some early alliances with key staff.  Find those strategic players who are early adopters who thrive on change. Create focus groups, project teams, and advisers with key players to hear their ideas and suggestions. By soliciting their input, staff will have buy-in to the change and will take ownership of it.  Their enthusiasm will have a ripple effect on the rest of the staff. 

Management should model the desired behavior for staff.  Communication concerning the change should not only be given through speeches, memos, and announcements, but also through management’s non-verbal behavior.  Don’t fall short with the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.  Make sure staff sees management’s positive attitude and involvement with the change.

Keep morale high throughout the change process by celebrating small victories and reaching milestones. Gather ideas from staff on how to celebrate meeting established goals.  Set goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, results-driven, and timed.  If the proposed change is very complex, break it down into manageable pieces so it is not so overwhelming for staff to achieve.  Celebrate when each milestone is completed to keep motivation and momentum going strong.

Master plan in place

The master plan should include establishing goals, objectives and strategies for meeting desired results.  Don’t make changes for change’s sake. Before implementing any change, perform a cost-benefit analysis to make sure the proposed benefits of the change far outweigh the disadvantages.

Recognize the staff’s mind set; too much change, too fast or within a short period of time may be a disadvantage to producing positive results.

Prior to announcing the change, make sure management has thoroughly thought through the change, its effect on staff, and desired end results. By doing this important step beforehand, practitioners will go through the same thought process as their staff. 

Many of the challenges and objections will surface during this process, and the practitioner will be prepared to address them when staff brings them up during the announcement.

According to Overcoming Employee Resistance to Change, use multiple channels to announce the change. The initial announcement should not come from technology-driven communications such as e-mails or memos. Make the first announcement in person. Allow time in the meeting for staff to digest the announcement and then for a question/answer session.

Do not make promises you can’t keep. Do not use extreme language like always, never, absolutely and guarantee. Make sure your plan includes addressing the potential problems and pitfalls of the change. Staff will be thinking about them whether you address them or not.

Let staff know the practitioner is aware of the challenges by putting them out on the table for discussion. Staff may be able to come up with solutions to manage the change.

Also, provide opportunities for anonymous input.  Surveys are a good way to receive input from staff without disclosing names. A suggestion box is another good means for anonymous ideas and comments to be acquired.

The old saying “the only thing that stays the same is change” is a reality in today’s world. It is important for the practice’s success to learn change management skills.

Change can be a learning opportunity for the practice to increase its staff’s intellectual assets.

By looking at change openly and honestly, one can begin to deal with it from a rational viewpoint rather than an emotional one.

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