Effective communication is the key to making change stick in your company


It is a widely held belief in business that if you aren’t growing, you’re dying. Growth is exciting in a lot of ways because it means new customers, products, services, and often new revenue. But growth, like all change, can also usher in insecurity and stress — especially amongst employees.

So when you ask an employee to change their behavior, it can often be met with resistance, which is frustrating. It feels like they just don’t care. We are, after all, adults and should not have to be told twice, right?

It might not be that simple because humans aren’t that simple. Your plumber comes to work with the weight of an entire life on their back. They have bills, families, hobbies, and more vying for attention every waking moment. As much as we would like to think they are 100 percent focused on the job 100 percent of the time that just isn’t the case. It is your responsibility to communicate clearly with employees and to ensure that they are implementing new rules, policies, procedures, etc. as they are introduced to your ever-growing, ever-changing organization.

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Here are a few tips for making sure that the changes you are implementing actually stick.

Communicate Effectively

People learn differently. Some will get it with only a verbal explanation while others need to read it, take notes about it, or even do it before they really comprehend. Don’t hold this against your team. Instead make sure they have the opportunity to understand in the format that is most suited to their style. It is even possible to get tests done to uncover the learning style of your employees, so that you can be prepared to ensure that your presentation is as effective as possible.

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An important new rule or policy should never be a conversation in the hallway or in passing over the phone. There should be a direct, intentioned conversation in a setting that allows employees to focus on the topic at hand. Important information should be treated as such. Expect your plumbers to give the information as much weight as you do, so never start these conversations with, “Oh, by the way …”

Reinforce In the Moment

Your employee may not get it right the first time. If you have a fence-tester on your team (i.e. someone who likes to push the boundaries) they may even be seeing what they can get away with. The first time you let noncompliance slide, you can kiss your new policy goodbye.

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Here is an example: You are trying to better track inventory, so you request that all supply house receipts now require a purchase order number. Plumbers were given explicit directions about how to create a purchase order number and where it should be included on the receipt.

One afternoon, a plumber turns in a receipt perfectly labeled, another does it with an incorrect purchase order number, and a third doesn’t have a number at all.

What is the correct response?

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Just let it go, assuming it will become a habit over time? Bring it up at your next meeting? Yell at the plumbers who didn’t get it right? Give out a bonus to the guy who got it right?

The best response is to address it in the moment, calmly and with an educational tone. Remember, some people learn by doing. Return the receipts to the plumbers, ask them to immediately correct the error and offer to help if they don’t understand the instructions. Because the employee is not yet in trouble, there is no need to do this in private as long as you can do it with respect.

Sticking to your guns on the new policy is critical in the early stages. You can’t expect consistent behavior from your team if you aren’t applying consistent behavior as well. It is up to you to correct bad behavior every time you see it, so that it can become a habit for the employee. Don’t let things slide or nothing will ever change. If an employee continues to refuse to adhere to a policy, then it may be necessary to pull them aside for a disciplinary conversation.

Wait, But Why?

Often, if an employee is resisting change in an organization it is for one of two reasons. Either they think the rule is stupid (i.e. they don’t understand why it is necessary) or it creates more work for them and they aren’t happy about it.

Both reasons are valid. If the employee is feeling these things, it is worth reflecting on because in both cases you have failed.

If you put a policy in place and the employee thinks it is stupid, you didn’t adequately explain your “why.” This may seem like millennial mumbo-jumbo to some. It may make you feel something along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter why, because I said so.”

The problem is that you aren’t their parent or dictator. You are their employer and that should be a relationship built on mutual respect between adults. The “why” matters because it is what gets their buy-in, and a cooperative employee is much easier to manage.

Explaining the “why” can even go a long way in getting employees to carry additional workloads. If the reason for resistance is that it is “too much work,” then telling the employee “why” may help them understand the policy’s importance.

On the other hand, this feedback from an employee is an opportunity to ask yourself if the change is creating an unnecessary burden on your plumbers. Perhaps the problem could be solved in another way, one that requires less work. Productivity usually leads to profits, so this is worth your time to explore — beyond the happiness of your employees that is.

The best way to open this conversation with an employee is to ask how they would handle it. Usually, two heads are better than one. Your young plumber may have a completely different perspective than you. If they understand why it is important for moving the business forward, they will be more adept at contributing innovation for making changes work inside the organization.

We all have to grow, change, and adapt on an almost daily basis. This can feel exhausting. So can keeping up with how that change is going with all of your employees. But it is a critical function of a manager. As is so often the case, the path to success is by utilizing one of the oldest innovations mankind can claim – language. Communicate well and change will be less painful for all involved.

About the author: Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupstate.com.


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