Who doesn’t like change? At the beginning of almost every training session I ask for a show of hands from those who like change . . . almost every hand goes up.
Why don’t people like change? Change means they have to take a new approach to what they are accustomed to doing. They have to leave their comfort zone and step out into the unknown, the new and the different. For many people, change also causes fear.
What does this have to do with utility companies? That’s simple. Every utility is faced with change. So what steps are you taking to help your employees deal with change? Following are some ideas that I think you will find useful.
Ask staff members what they think. Let’s assume you have reorganized, introduced new billing software, changed how it assigns work orders or made changes to any of the processes you have as part of your daily operations. What do your employees really think about that? Are things going well?
I recently worked with a utility where management had made a number of changes to the operations in its departments. Unfortunately, some of the changes weren’t working as intended. In fact, they were actually costing the company more money and were having a negative impact on employee morale and customer service. The problems continued because employees were afraid to speak up. They felt they might be fired for saying anything about the changes that were less than positive.
I strongly recommend you do employee surveys to understand what is working well and where modifications are needed. Allow employees to respond anonymously so you receive candid feedback. Share the results of the survey with the entire company, even if comments were not positive. Communicate with the whole company what actions will be taken as a result of the survey. Employees will continue to provide feedback when they realize the company is listening and willing to implement fixes.
Keep the whole company in the loop. Is information shared at your management sessions immediately and accurately communicated to all departments within the company? Employees often tell me during training sessions that they are not kept in the loop. They don’t feel that they know what is going on in the company.
Do you make use of technology to ensure every employee is in the communication loop? For example, do you have a company intranet for dissemination of information? If you do, are the right people responsible for posting the information? How often is the intranet updated? Can all employees access the intranet? E-mail can be another communication tool, if used correctly. The problem is that many employees feel like they are e-mailed to death. E-mail should be used for internal communication only when necessary, so create a standard for what is important. That way, employees will know they should read an e-mail from management immediately.
If big changes are happening at your company, you need to start communicating now. Don’t wait until you’re sure of all the details before sharing what you know. Don’t let the rumor mill create its own version of what’s happening. Reach out to your employees and communicate!
Tell employees why change is happening. When change is on the horizon, don’t just say what is going to happen. Also explain why the change is necessary. You will find that your employees are more flexible and accepting when they understand the reasoning behind the change. No one likes having something forced on them.
Who does the change impact? It is absolutely critical that management consult with departments that will be significantly affected by a pending change. You would think this is a no-brainer, but it isn’t. I heard of a utility company that made the decision to purchase the customers of another utility. Management decided the transaction could be completed in 60 days. It was unfortunate that they hadn’t even talked with billing, IT, customer service, accounting and outside plant personnel. When these people learned what was happening and what was expected of them, they were angry that management had not asked for their input. Management had to delay the acquisition, once it understood what needed to be done to make it a success. There was no way the purchase could be completed in the original timeframe.
We are so busy! The speed at which companies operate continually accelerates. Workloads increase and the time people have to get things done shrinks. While this is happening, many companies make the mistake of not taking the time to listen to their most important asset – their employees. Utilities simply must go out of their way to hear what their employees have to say, especially when the faster pace is the result of change. Quality work will fly out the window if employees can’t speak their mind. Use open-ended questions such as “how will this impact your department?” “what do you think of this change?” and “how can we improve the process?” The tough part is not passing judgment when you don’t agree with the feedback. Just listen and ask questions to clarify the response.
Creating change within any company can be a difficult task and utilities are no exception. Deep down inside, most people resist change because they don’t like it and fear it. Every employee has a perception of what will happen as a result of any change the company is considering. When employees aren’t in agreement with the change, walls go up and company morale goes down. That’s why effective communication is so critical. Explain the change and why it is needed, ask people for their input and keep them in the loop.