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The Challenge of New: Embracing & Managing Change with Your Staff

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Whenever someone talks about the challenge of change, I hear David Bowie in my head. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes….” The second line of that song turns out to be “turn to face the strange.” I rarely hear song lyrics correctly, so this was news to me, but it seems very appropriate.

No one likes change. That was the headline from Dr. Deborah Gilboa of Ask Dr. G fame, when I saw her speak recently. I immediately bristled a little bit. I like change. I like trying new things, like to have multiple things going on…what is she talking about? Then she gave the example of finding a new job. That’s a process we have to actively participate in for someone to offer us something new. We research the company; we interview, sometimes with way too many people; we think about the tasks, the location, our goals, the salary, the work environment…. And yet, when we get the offer, universally the reaction is to back up and think of all the reasons we don’t want the job. That hit home. 

I joined WrkSpot just a couple of months ago. I had been talking to them for several months before that. I’d done research, talked to people at the company, talked to friends in the industry, talked to my family, compared it to other opportunities I had, and decided this was the job I wanted. And yet when our COO offered me the role, my first thought was “Yikes! Do I really want to do this? What am I thinking? Is there a good lunch place near their office?” Dr. G is right. Change is hard and no matter how excited we may be, or how much we value the new job, technology, car, or even haircut, part of us wants to put on the brakes.

Now imagine how your team feels when you tell them you’re implementing new hotel operations software, or any new technology. That’s a situation you’re likely to be in repeatedly, if the forecasts are right: Hoteliers will be looking for technology solutions more than ever before. Even if this new technology changes just a small part of your team’s processes; even if it makes their job easier and helps them be more effective; even if it reduces their paperwork and their trips to the front desk; you are still asking people to make a change. And you probably feel at least a little bit of that reluctance yourself, even if you were the one who made the decision to buy and implement the new software.

And then what happens? We…they…you…find reasons that this change is not good. “The software will not help…. Our process is fine….We like post-its….We already catch most problems before guests are aware.” And my personal favorite: “I know how to do this.” The corollary to, “I know how to do this” is, “I don’t know how to do that.” But we often don’t articulate that part. And that’s really the part that intimidates us. That’s what triggers our fight or flight reflex. Because we all know that learning something new is a risk. Maybe just a little one, but still a risk. It will take more time and energy. We will have to think about it. Like driving to a new workplace, we can’t just be on autopilot. And we might not be good at it right away. 

So what do we do? I’m borrowing heavily from Dr. G here, but also relaying what has worked for me as a team or division leader, and even a bakery owner, in previous roles. 

  • First, have some empathy for your employees, your team, and even yourself. This isn’t the time to just tell people what to do. You need to understand what people are worried about and where they might be stuck. Really listen to their concerns and stay open to what challenges your team sees ahead. When someone says, “Our maintenance ticket system is fine. I see a problem and I leave a post-it on the GM’s desk. Everything gets taken care of. Software will just add another step and create more work for me. I don’t have time for more work.” They are really saying, “I am used to my existing process. It takes time and has a lot of steps, but I know how to do it and I don’t really think about how annoying it is. I’m worried about learning something new. What if WrkSpot is hard for me to learn?”
  • Second, be transparent about what you are doing and why. What benefits do you see that this new process will bring to the team or to the company? Why do you believe that? What information, experience or knowledge do you have that they don’t (yet) that can help them understand? (“Creating maintenance requests is a huge headache for me and I actually slow everyone down. It can take me a while to get to the requests you’ve given me and that means our maintenance guys don’t know there’s a problem fast enough. We might accidentally check guests into a room that has a clogged sink.”)

  • Third, give people a little time to process the new information, and the change you’re asking them to make. I’m not talking about weeks, but give people a day or two to think about it. Make yourself available to answer questions and address concerns during that time. Being able to process, ask questions, and really think about the potential can let people make the shift on their own terms. 

  • And finally, give your staff some autonomy. When you’re implementing a new process, team structure, or software, you can’t give people a lot of choice about when and how they make the change, but you can build in some opportunity. Try giving the team a timeframe and asking them what’s feasible within those limits. (“I need to move scheduling and clock-in/clock-out to WrkSpot by the end of the month. After we’ve walked through how the software works, I’d like you all to talk about what training you think you’ll need and what timing you think will work. We can figure out the final schedule tomorrow.”) Notice that you’re not agreeing to anything right now; you’re telling them what timeframe you need and giving them some freedom to set their own schedule within that. They could come back and tell you they need more time than you have, which is your cue to double back to transparency (“We really need to make the switch by the end of the month, because….”) But if you’ve given them a reasonable timeframe, they probably won’t. And in the meantime, they are feeling a greater sense of control.

The bottom line is, remember that change isn’t easy, even when it will make things better. Those reasons your staff finds not to do things differently are often not excuses. They’re telling you, “This feels uncertain. We don’t know how to do the thing you’re asking us to do, or even if we can.” Your team needs you to help them, “turn to face the strange.”

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