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6 steps to easing employees’ fears about innovation

Business owners often find the greatest obstacle to innovation isn’t the change itself, but employees’ resistance to it. Their hesitation or outright defiance is frequently driven by fear.

Some workers might worry about how the innovation will alter their jobs — or whether it will even eliminate their positions. Others could reject the concept and believe that the change will hurt, rather than help, the company.

To better ensure the success of your next innovative project, you’ll need to ease the fears and win the support of your employees. Here are six steps that can help:

1. Create a communications strategy. As specifically as possible, describe the innovation’s purpose and expected impact. For example, if you’re implementing a new software platform, let employees know how the innovation will help the business. Will it streamline operations? Open new markets? Bolster the company’s reputation as an innovator?

From there, explain how the innovation will affect and improve employees’ jobs. Going back to our example, this could mean pointing out how the software platform eliminates longstanding redundancies, improves data capture and security, and “upskills” employees’ tech savvy.

Be transparent about how a change could present initial challenges. For instance, suppose a new accounts payable system will simplify invoice processing, but it will also mean employees need to substantially alter their workflows. Let workers know how you’ll revise processes, as well as the steps you’ll take to help them with the transition.

2. Solicit input. Long before rolling out an innovation, ask employees at all levels and departments about the concept and, over time, the details. Doing so might start with issuing an employee survey and then later holding “town hall” meetings to discuss how the project is evolving.

Remember, the more often workers can provide input, the more likely they are to buy in to the change. And the discussions could yield insights that prove invaluable to the innovation’s success.

3. Assemble an implementation team. The team should include a leader, typically a management-level employee, who understands your company culture and can navigate the bureaucratic landscape. It should also include at least one “champion” — ideally, a lower-level worker who can help win the hearts and minds of fellow rank-and-file employees.

4. Provide training. As feasible and relevant, plan to offer training related to the innovation. Be sure to factor this into the budget. Employees often fear a major change because they’re unsure they’ll be able to master a new process or technology. Provide the education and resources they’ll need to successfully adapt.

5. Start small. Many businesses conduct a “beta test” well before the full rollout. This essentially means asking a small group of employees to try the innovation so you can catch oversights and fix glitches. Doing so can not only prevent disappointment or even disaster, but also build excitement about the big change as word spreads about how enjoyable and effective it is.

6. Ask for help. Many small to midsize companies lack the staff and resources to design and implement a major innovation. You might need to allocate some of the project budget to outside consultants. Contact us for help creating that budget, as well as weighing the costs vs. benefits of any innovation you’re considering.

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