Why Is Change So Scary?

In a few days we’ll be celebrating Halloween here in the states. The role Halloween plays at different points in life is kind of funny. You love dressing up as a kid and getting as much candy as you can. Then you reach an age where it’s just not cool anymore to dress up and go around your neighborhood asking for candy (my mom has a policy that if the trick or treater is taller than she is, she won’t give them treats). Just when you think you’re done with dressing up, you get to college and young adulthood and the costuming resumes.

I remember the first year I decided not to dress up. It felt a little weird being on the other side, handing out the candy rather than collecting it. In some ways it symbolized a departure from innocence to responsibility. The next year didn’t seem so strange, and then it became more and more fun to be on the other side and show off that I was “older.”   

This got me thinking about change and transition. The work we do with our clients involves inevitable elements of change. Oftentimes, we are introducing a new concept to a group of people who never thought their work touched brand. Branding is for consumers, not candidates or employees! I beg to differ. When meeting a stranger or talking to a friend, work always comes up, not their favorite toothpaste. The way a person speaks of their employer touches the brand. It’s the reputation.

Employer branding has been in the public domain for about a quarter century, but only recently has it caught on as a major business function, with companies dedicating positions and even teams to managing a company’s employer brand. Some organizations have even linked employer brand to their consumer brand teams, seeing the important link between the two.

We are employer brand aficionados, evangelists, advocates, ambassadors…you get the picture. We see the impact on the bottom line of a company and have the stats to prove it. But we’re realistic. Not everyone gets it, and people should question investments of money and time in an organization. Resources are limited.

When it comes to change, people are the biggest impediment. We get in our own way. Change often means you have to be uncomfortable for a period of time, and no one likes to be uncomfortable. There is also a fear of the unknown. How will this affect me? Will I lose my job? Will I have to work with new people? Change IS scary.

So how do you help your organization navigate change, whether it’s introducing a new employer brand or anything really? Here are some tips I’ve seen be successful in my experience doing change management projects as well as employer brand implementations. Given that navigating change is really navigating human behavior, your change management plan should focus on engaging the right people at the right time with the right purpose.

  • Make the case: Leaders LOVE data and numbers. The more data you have to back up your case to make a change, the better. Tailor it to your audience too – if you’re speaking to finance, discuss how it will reduce costs. If you’re speaking to HR, discuss how it will reduce turnover.
  • Get leadership backing: You need top cover. Someone with clout who is willing to stick their neck out for the project and commit to it by removing barriers.
  • Identify stakeholders: Identify all of the people who will be touched by the change and the role they play. You want a diverse group of people who have influence.
  • Make a stakeholder engagement plan: Based on the list above, determine a stakeholder’s level of influence, their decision-making role, and the times to engage them.
  • Communicate: Tell people what you are doing and approximately how and when they will be engaged. People don’t like surprises, so get them comfortable with what’s coming ahead of time. Continue communicating throughout the project, even if there are no updates. Keep it top of mind.

These are just a few suggestions to get started. You want the transition to feel natural when it happens and these steps will lay the groundwork to get you there. That way it’s not so scary.

Some of my favorite change management resources include:

  1. Leading Change by Dr. John Kotter
  2. The Primes by Chris McGoff
  3. Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence Them by Dale Carnegie

Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research, and recruiting strategy offerings.

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