I Don’t Understand – Getting Employees Onboard

Young man with doesn't know gesture

What happens when employees don’t understand?

What is the hardest part of implementing new processes in your business? For most companies, it is learning the new process and actually getting people to do things differently?

Michael Hammer, the business-process-reengineering guru, stated “The hard stuff is the soft stuff.” What he was alluding to is the “soft stuff” is our people – working with their emotions, beliefs, and getting through their heads why we are making changes.

Do you agree that getting the “soft stuff” right is sometimes very difficult (hard) to do? If not then stop reading this post is not for you.

There are three things that your employees will probably never tell you:

  • That they do not understand what you are asking of them.
  • They are afraid of changes.
  • They don’t see an answer to their WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) questions they have.

These employee secrets can absolutely kill your company.

Let’s look further into the first issue, lack of understanding.

There’s a famous phrase credited to Woolsey and Swanson that goes something like this: “People would rather put up with a problem they cannot solve than accept a solution they do not understand.” People would rather keep doing things the way they have always done them, and beat their heads against the wall, than to do something differently or accept a solution they do not understand. It’s incumbent on us to think through how to help people understand changes. A fundamental technique is to ask them to repeat back to you what it is you said, and I hope you try to use this one as often as possible.

Here is a four-step approach to use in a group setting.

  1. Share the basic proposal and information (The What, How, Why) verbally. Use visual aids. Keep this short.
  2. Ask the group to write down a summary of the important points.
  3. Break the larger groups into smaller groups of 2-4 people and have them discuss what they wrote down.
  4. Have several of the groups share their version of what you presented.

If they repeat exactly what you were looking for, that is a home run. If not, you have more work to do. 

Take the extra time to make your ideas more visual. 

In a lot of organizations, large and small, we rely heavily on on-the-job training to learn a new skill. The training is often verbal, and it flashes by very quickly, with almost nothing visual to reinforce what it is we are looking for. Here we can use what is called standard visual work – creating visual images, step-by-step instructions, or accompanying screen shots and photographs. 

Creating what is called The Visual Workplace.

You physically move equipment, desks, people’s work areas and the stuff they work with, redesigning the workplace so that tasks can only be done in one physical way. Your people will have to physically do business in a new and different way. Playing a little bit off of Hammerism, this would be a form of the hard stuff, or physical infrastructure, driving the soft stuff. If you physically transform the workplace so that people have to do things in a new and different way, it is very difficult to resist doing so, and difficult not to understand what you are looking for.

Help people learn,

Understand and remember what you want, which is to make learning and understanding a part of job descriptions and performance appraisals. This takes a lot of the burden off you. Make it your employees’ responsibility to make sure they understand what you want, to request clarification until they do understand, and to make it clear to you that they understand. They need to be able to articulate this understanding to you day-by-day. It’s a condition of their employment.

Lastly, sometimes you just have to ask questions.

Do the communicating and wait a reasonable period of time. Then go back and ask questions about what people got out of that communication, and whether or not they understood what it is you were talking about?

If you would like more information on to be more efficient and effective with your employees, contact a senior consultant with Ember Carriers at (513) 984-9333 for a no cost, no obligation strategy session to discuss your company’s needs.

Web: www.embercarriers.com|Facebook: www.facebook.com/EmberCarriers

Twitter: www.twitter.com/embercarriers|LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/mhladio


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