Empathy is the Key to Successful Organizational Change

An organizational change and overhaul can transform your business, bringing it into alignment with current best practices and improving processes and strategies for better outcomes. But a 2013 survey by global professional services company Towers Watson found that only 25 percent of organizations are able to keep the momentum going and sustain the gains from their changes for the long-term. According to the survey, the blame lies partly with a company’s inability to prepare and train managers to be effective change leaders.

Effective communication is at the very heart of successful organizational change. The Tower Watson research finds that only 68 percent of senior managers feel they understand the reasons behind major organizational changes, and down the ladder, the message is even muddier: Only 53 percent of middle managers and 40 percent of first-line supervisors think their management adequately explains the reasons behind a major decision.

The problem, of course, is that most humans are, by nature, wary of change. Managers and employees who are in the dark or upset about changes are generally less productive, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which stresses that organizations that want to undertake significant changes to stay competitive must gain employee acceptance and support in order for the change to be successful and to stick. And the best tool for that job is empathy.

Empathy: The Heart of Successful Communication

Empathy is the ability to recognize and appropriately respond to the emotions of others. It’s the basis for understanding and considering others and developing trusting relationships. People with strong empathy are good at listening and getting to the bottom of how another person feels about something. They’re able to gain the trust of others easily and facilitate compromise and collaboration.

A lack of empathy can negatively impact the success of organizational change, which requires a team that’s on board and motivated to implement the change. Change often causes stress, anxiety, and uncertainty among employees, fueling resistance, which can be neither ignored nor forced into submission. But resistance can be whittled down with empathy. How you communicate information to employees during an organizational change is just as important as what you communicate.

How to Use Empathy to Get the Workforce on Board

Whether your organization is large or small, getting the people who work for you on board with the changes is paramount to sustaining the changes over the long-term. Here are three important ways to use empathy to help employees accept and embrace the changes your organization is making.

Talk to everyone.

Organizational changes affect nearly everyone in the company, from the CEO down to the receptionist. Getting everyone at every level comfortable with and even enthusiastic about the changes will keep employees motivated to efficiently implement, facilitate, and maintain them.

Interview employees in every segment of the company to get a sample perspective of the attitudes toward the changes. Keep in mind that teams’ needs and desires regarding the change will evolve throughout the process, so it’s a good idea to reevaluate their mindset during every phase of the changes.

Listen effectively.

Good listening skills are central to empathetic communication, but listening isn’t just a matter of nodding silently while the other person talks. In fact, a Harvard analysis identified 20 significant differences between highly effective listeners and average listeners. A major takeaway is that good listeners ask questions that expand their insight into what the speaker is saying, and they respond to the speaker in a way that builds the speaker’s self-esteem. The best listeners are able to read the nonverbal cues that make up an estimated 80 percent of what we communicate.

Listen, and ask questions that clue you into the mindset of your employees. How will the changes affect their work? Do they view the changes as positive or negative, and why? What concerns or excites them about the changes? Uncover their beliefs, questions, feelings, and concerns. Use this information to shape your communication plan and speak to the general mood of your employees.

Let people know what to expect.

A Robert Half Management Resources survey finds that poor communication hinders organizational change management efforts. Sixty-five percent of surveyed managers indicated that clear and frequent communication is the most important factor when leading the company through change.

The more informed your workforce is about the changes, the better they’ll be able to deal with them. Understanding, acknowledging, and addressing their fears openly makes employees feel heard and valued, and it helps you build credibility and trust. Involve the workforce early in the process to prepare them and get them comfortable with the changes. Keep the communications coming as move through the process.

H2H Coaching Co. Can Help

H2H Coaching Co. understands the importance of empathy for effective communication with the workforce. Empathy is a key element of emotional intelligence, and it’s a soft skill that’s in high demand in today’s workforce. It’s not a static trait—you can develop and increase your empathy, and doing so will improve your negotiating, communication, and collaboration skills at work and in all areas of your life.

H2H Coaching Co. helps executives and employees develop and hone their empathy and other fundamental skills of emotional intelligence. Contact us today, and let us help you use your empathy to facilitate successful organizational change that sticks.