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How to become a better agent for change.

How to become a better agent for change

Laboratorians are used to coping with a constantly changing technology. But now, economic and organizational issues are introducing more threatening alterations to our work life. These alterations include mergers, acquisitions, new ventures, competition, and the shift of testing from hospital to office labs.

Adaptability and flexibility are needed at all levels. Some employees will have to be "recycled' as relearning and retraining become the orders of the day.

The best managers are change agents. They know how to facilitate new ways of doing things. Understanding the reasons for resisting change, they get their employees to view it as a normal part of the job.

It is common to fear and resist change, since it often involves the unknown and entails risk taking. We are more comfortable with the status quo and knowing what is expected of us. Haven't most of our failures occurred when we attempted to do something we had never done before?

Employees frequently see real and imagined threats in change without any corresponding benefits. Some supervisors also feel threatened. What can laboratory management do to smooth the way for change?

Before we answer that question, let's briefly consider how management should not introduce change. It should not "tell only' by issuing written directives or merely announcing the change; it should not "sell only' and rely on a high-pressure presentation. Nor should management deny employees an opportunity to participate in decisions about the nature of the change and when and how it will take place.

Here's what does work:

Ownership. As their input into deliberations increases, employees acquire more ownership of, and commitment to, decisions about change. They want to see their ideas flourish. There is no surrender of authority in this: Managers are not paid to make decisions, they are paid to get decisions made.

When employees have no voice in the what or when of a change, it becomes even more important that they have some say in how the change will be implemented. It is also important to give credit to everyone who contributes ideas and sweat.

The soft sell. Take a reasonable approach and don't shove the change down anyone's throat. A "hard sell' rarely generates enthusiasm. At best, there's acquiescence; at worst, open rebellion or sabotage.

Emotional and rational elements must be considered. Employees must perceive the change as having more benefits than liabilities and trust the person making the sales pitch. Positive selling points may include elimination of tedious work, increased work variety and significance, more autonomy in decision making, and an opportunity to upgrade skills.

Reassurance. Resistance to change intensifies whenever jobs are at stake. Even employees whose jobs aren't threatened may resist because they feel guilty about being survivors or they sympathize with those being let go. If possible, reassure staff members that the change will not affect their workload. For example, technologists could be told that while a new automated analyzer will feature walkaway operation, its expanded capabilities will increase test volume and keep them busy with more specimen processing and reporting. In other words, only the breakdown of the work will change.

Employees whose jobs are in jeopardy can often be promised new positions, sometimes in higher pay brackets. Assuring them that they will be trained for reassignment further reduces fears.

Patience. Avoid making changes until all staff members know what to expect and have had a chance to express their concerns and opinions. The sudden appearance of crates of equipment without any explanation creates tension. Premature dismissals or transfers may be disastrous.

Introduce change gradually. The following measured steps are offered as a guide:

1. Discuss the need for change, get input from those affected by it, and explore alternatives.

2. Draft a clear and complete description of the change so everyone knows exactly what is going to happen.

3. List the benefits to patients and/or clients, the organization, and employees.

4. Select those employees whose support you can depend on or who have special talents that may be useful. Clue them in.

5. Itemize aspects of the change that may disturb employees and determine how you're going to address each concern. Identify employees who are most likely to drag their feet. Anticipate their objections and prepare thoughtful rebuttals to their arguments.

6. Plan your communication strategy. You want to get the word out to everyone directly and quickly, avoiding misinformation through the grapevine. Don't forget part-timers and evening and night shift employees if they are affected by the change. Try to meet with one individual at a time or with small groups to encourage frank discussion.

7. Hold preliminary meetings with supporters and resource people to prepare your presentation.

8. Make your presentation, starting with an informational meeting. Remember that each person is worried about how he or she will be affected, so don't talk in generalities. State that you want everyone to think about the change proposal and to suggest how it can be strengthened and implemented. Emphasize that all concerns voiced by the staff will be discussed.

9. Cultivate commitment. Listen, empathize, and be patient enough to hear everyone's fears and suggestions. In fact, you should insist that all employees speak their mind. Otherwise, less assertive individuals are apt to remain silent, even when they are seething or trembling inside. Watch body language for hints on how staff members really feel. One-on-one meetings are often best, especially when a job is threatened or likely to be altered drastically.

Counter fallacious arguments and unsound objections without putting the critic down, for you don't want to inhibit dissent or expression of true feelings. You have a good rebuttal to arguments if you can say that the same change has been accomplished successfully at other labs.

Thank staff members for their input. Implement as many appropriate suggestions as you can.

10. Prepare and publicize the agenda and timetable for implementation. Introduce the change slowly or in steps if possible. Make sure everyone involved understands his or her new role. Ideally, you will prepare a chart showing staff responsibilities.

11. Give frequent progress reports to keep the staff fully informed and to get feedback. Provide psychological support where needed.

12. Recognize individual and group contributions as you proceed toward implementation. Don't wait for the change to be completed before giving praise.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:how laboratory managers can successfully deal with change in the laboratory
Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1987
Words:1052
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