9 ways to keep your people motivated during change

Frankie Kemp

24 August 2023

Managing change is a huge challenge, but doing it well is also the sign of a good leader.

A huge element of managing change is how the change is communicated, but also how you communicate with your staff after the change has happened.

People are naturally fearful of change in the workplace.  We have our comfort zones, with change increasing our vulnerability around what will happen next.

When there’s been a mass ‘purge’ of people, those that stay can be left in the swill of survivor’s guilt.  There may also be anger, resentment or apathy as a result of considerable change because of what has happened to valued friends and colleagues.

It’s not a pretty sight, and if motivation is linked to production then this does not augur well.

Communications coaching is essential in order to learn how to manage change and ensure performance is not adversely affected.

Here are nine practical ways to increase motivation amongst staff during such transformation in the workplace:

  1. In times of change, keep your people in the loop – This can be a weekly team meet, a departmental newsletter, a town-hall meeting. Your company culture is unique to you and is different from others so you’ll know the best way to do this. On the flipside, silence makes people suspicious and paranoid.  People need enough information to make good decisions about their work and when a disruptive change has occurred, supplying people with the information that allows them to make decisions, helps them to regain a sense of control.  Research by MIT in 2017, found that this control or ‘autonomy’ is one of the key factors in motivation.
  2. Get personal – For those particularly affected by change, keep it personal and face-to-face. At a time of change, people need reassurance that they’re seen as an individual and not a number on a payroll. Listen to their concerns and give them an outlet to speak.  Genuine active listening will guide you as to what a motivating culture looks like to this new workforce.  In my Appreciative Inquiry workshops, leaders do this through company wide sessions in creative problem solving to answer questions such ‘How do we motivate our people?’.   Leaders need to impart to their teams what specific changes would mean for their job, goals, time allocation and decisions.  Hiding it because it doesn’t feel like ‘good news’ breaks trust and once that’s broken, it’s a long road to fix it.  Being open helps people feel valued and understood.
  3. Build collaboration – Job swapping is one effective example of building team collaboration and understanding. To keep it simple, you can avoid doing a straight swap and have people partner each other.  What could also be effective is to have a 25-year-old teaming up with a 55-year-old and seeing what they learn from each other.  This promotes inclusivity and makes sure everyone feels valued.  The exchange in knowledge and experience is something teams were mostly deprived of during lockdown and this effects emotional well-being as well as confidence.  Other ideas are subsidised social events. In one of the tech companies in which I’ve recently trained, there’s a plethora of collectives with their own activities such as seminars, days out and mentoring opportunities. If these activities span departments and roles people will feel a bigger part of the organisation, resulting in more cohesive relationships across the business.
  4. Have the senior team more present – Employees find regular interaction and communication with and attention from senior and executive managers motivational. In a study by Towers Perrin (now Willis Towers Watson), the Global Workforce Study which included nearly 90,000 workers from 18 countries, the role of senior managers in attracting employee effort exceeded that of contact with immediate supervisors. Good leaders are visible and gain respect from getting involved at all levels, so when was the last time you saw them?
  5. Build self-improvement into your culture – Allowing others the opportunity to be supported through training and upskilling helps restore trust, confidence and a sense of belief. Training increases team cohesion, with the input of fresh ideas, adding new colours to the palette. Lunch-time slots where someone shares a skill or experience, whether professional or personal, build community and competence. For example, in a school that I know of the teachers regularly run sessions for each other on areas of individual speciality such as learning styles, creative storytelling and behaviour management.  This helps build relationships, empowering those running the sessions.
  6. Show your appreciation – Give public recognition to staff who’ve achieved particularly well. Whether a bouquet or an announcement on a notice board, give recognition where it’s due. Remember to acknowledge life events such as birthdays, enquire about holidays, and generally show an interest in the individual. This demonstrates that you value employees beyond simply the performance of their functional duties.
  7. Create stretch challenges – Testing people keeps them on their toes and helps individuals develop their skills and knowledge. Stretching assignments that can be defined through activities such as creative problem-solving  can develop staff capabilities and increase their ability to contribute at work. That way, the assignment you’re allocating resolves a specific challenge.  At the same time, remove some of the more time-consuming, less desirable job components when you are setting these challenges, so the employee doesn’t feel that what has been delegated is “more” work.
  8. Don’t dodge and dive meetings – Employees appreciate a responsive and involved relationship with their immediate supervisor. So you should avoid cancelling regular meetings. If you do need to, immediately reschedule. Regularly missing an employee meeting sends a powerful message of disrespect for their time.
  9. Look after the basics – Those aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs will know that our basic needs consist of sustenance, climate and space. In a work environment this translates to the basic welfare needs.  So if the toilet’s blocked, there’s no coffee in the kitchen and the offices are too hot to work in, you’ll need to address this.  It’ll eat into your employees’ motivation like a moth into wool because people will just think “well, if they can’t even get this right……”.

Your Actions:

  1. Scan the list for where you think you need that extra help.
  2. Here are 6 ways to make people do stuff so if one way of motivating doesn’t work, you may try another or a blend.
  3. Aside from ensuring you say ‘thank you’ to people, there are 7 ways to build trust and collaborating into how you collaborate with others, and they’re here.

If you adopt these methods you’ll be more able to introduce change effectively in the workplace without hindering motivation and performance. This forms an important part of my communications skills training, and if you think that could help you, get in touch and sign-up for a course today.

What specific examples have you come across of how motivation has been boosted – or sunk – during large change initiatives?

Share it in the comments….

This article was first published in May 2011 and was updated in August 2023.

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