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3 Ways to Keep the Employee Experience Positive When Company Culture Shifts

Posted by Sandy Yu on 2.28.2019


Change is what keeps the world turning. Without it, we’d remain stagnant and unevolved. We all know this, but dealing with change is still one of the most challenging feats for many people.This is especially true for employees dealing with culturally evolving companies. The growth and expansion of a company isn’t a negative development by any stretch. However, when leaders don’t effectively communicate changes in the process, it turns into a negative employee experience. Even your most dedicated employees are susceptible to the damage of poor internal communications during a cultural shift.

To help everyone on your team cope, we reached out to our team of business experts. Here’s how they’re keeping the employee experience positive when company cultures change:

1. Keep it simple and connect the dots

It’s often overlooked that there’s extra time involved for employees who are going through a culture shift. Executives and consultants are eager to send out internal communications announcing the change, but employees are the ones that often need to ‘change.’

When I helped launch a culture shift at GE, we followed a multi-prong approach. We communicated them each separately. Perfectly executed campaign messages were set up to communicate the critical elements of change. However, we neglected to consider that employees were receiving multiple messages and were unable to make the connection. To avoid this same type of confusion, it’s critical to create a story for employees and connect your change to what they know -- connect the dots.200x200 headshot (7)

Remember, change is a personal journey. Some employees will adapt more quickly than others. The internal communications strategy needs to tell a story about why, what, when, and how to ensure employees are on the same journey as the company.

Leys Bostrom, Founder and President of B|B Advisory

2. Focus on S.C.A.R.F

Change is scary to most human beings. So to keep employees on the same page, you must communicate a lot. Think specifically about taking care of S.C.A.R.F for employees. Here’s what S.C.A.R.F stands for:

Status: Here's how your status will not change.

Certainty: Here are all the things that will NOT change and you can count on.

Autonomy: You decide how you get through this change best.

Relatedness: We are all in this together.

Fairness: We will implement this change as fairly as possible

200x200 headshot (8)Once this is done, help employees remain positive about changes by teaching them healthy stress coping techniques. Remind them also that science has proven positive attitudes boost happiness -- and, in turn, productivity.   

Scott Crabtree, Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science

3. Stop trying to make employees happy

Employees will respond to culture change with negativity when they feel threatened, deceived, or a sense of loss. The threat response occurs when employees feel the change in culture threatens their status, autonomy, or certainty about ‘how things work around here.’

The deception response occurs when employees feel their leaders are insincere about the changes, that they have ulterior motives, or that there’s a disconnect between what leaders are saying and doing.

The loss response occurs when employees feel they’re getting the short end of the stick or that the culture changes mean that they have to give something up.

Cultural change is the hardest change because it’s personal, emotional, and requires a fundamental change in what we expect of each other and what we accept from each other. Retooling this social contract requires three kinds of employee communication: interpersonal, small group, and public communication.

Leaders must use these three forms of communication to explain the why, what, and how of the cultural change that they’re leading. Leaders’ internal communications must provide basic information, offer social support, and cast vision.

Often times, leaders make the mistake of trying to ‘make employees happy’ and help them remain positive during times of change. Humans need time to process the emotions of change. To support employees through the change, leaders must listen, ask questions, lean into resistance, and support. They should offer support through the entire change adoption process.200x200 headshot (9)

After a reasonable amount of time, they can provide one-to-one support for the naysayers, set clear expectations, establish consequences, and, when all else fails, know that not every employee will be a good fit in the new culture -- and that’s okay!

Chris Groscurth, Practice Area Lead for Slalom Consulting and author of Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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Topics: employee experience, employee feedback, change management

Human Resources Today