Whether it is a change in your customer market, a change in your competition, or a change in technology, one thing you can count on is that you will always face change. Some of these changes will be incremental and can be addressed with a few days of training. Other changes may put large segments of your workforce out of a job.
It’s that second one that should concern you. Whether it’s robots running a fast-food restaurant or artificial intelligence doing the work of auditors, the changes you introduce may affect your employees’ ability to hold a job. They can see it coming, so when you start talking about changes — especially automation — you need to take steps to keep them engaged.
Uncertainty is one of the biggest reasons for inefficiency in a business. Few things cause greater uncertainty than being worried about your future paycheck. So if you’re talking about big changes in the way you do business (“digitalization” and “agility” are prime examples of this) you need to take steps to calm your people.
First, be sure to communicate about the coming changes. Don’t leave people guessing, but instead, be transparent about what’s happening. If you’re pretty sure there’s a place for them in the future, say so. If not, then again, say so. If you’re not sure, well, tell them you’re not sure but you will keep them updated. Give them as much information as you have.
If there is a place for them in the future, but only if they retrain, then set them up to retrain. It is better to keep your current employees and retrain them than to let them go and start fresh with new ones. Your current employees bring corporate knowledge and existing relationships that will take forever to recreate with new people. Don’t create more changes for yourself than you really need to.
If there may NOT be a place for them in the future — if the workforce is going to be reduced — then take steps to get them ready to transition to something else. Maybe it’s training them for another line of work (coding camp, anyone?) or maybe it’s providing job search and other transition assistance, but do something to help them out. This is not an investment that will pay off for you in the long run, of course, since you’re planning on them leaving. The money spent now on helping them, however, will make them more willing to do good work for you for as long as they are with you. Try to avoid sudden dropoffs in performance just because your employees don’t care about doing a good job for you anymore.
Change can be scary, especially when it affects career plans. As a leader, you have a chance to minimize that scariness and the effects it creates.