How to Change Office Procedures

Three Parts:Preparing the Office for the ChangesImplementing the ChangeDeciding if the Time is Right for Change

Change can be difficult if you have co-workers or employees that are averse to it, but sometimes knowing how to change office procedures is necessary to improve morale and productivity. Unfortunately, it’s also easier said than done. Work with your employees and co-workers to make the transition a smooth one by preparing for change methodically, implementing it gradually, and timing it judiciously.

Part 1
Preparing the Office for the Changes

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    Put together a coalition. Nearly any type of procedural change, no matter how small, will encounter resistance. Count on it. The best way to manage resistance is to weaken it before it has a chance to organize. Therefore, before you formally introduce a new policy, you should put together a coalition of those powerful enough to disrupt your plans and get them behind the change.[1]
    • If you can’t get these important stakeholders on your side, implementing change is going to be extremely difficult, even if you’re the boss. It’s probably best to wait until you’ve developed a coalition. If you implement the change on a hostile audience and it is unsuccessful, the resistance can undermine your authority. After all, these are the people who will ensure the new policy is actually carried out. They won’t do as good of a job if they disagree with what they’ve been tasked to enforce.
    • If the change is going to be particularly controversial, feel out possible coalition members individually. Once you’ve brought them over to your side, you can use their influence to help convince more reluctant parties.
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    Write a summary of the new procedures. Once you’ve gotten some preliminary buy-in, write out a summary of the new change in procedure. You should cover several items in your summary, including:[2]
    • What the current policy is.
    • What the current practice is. If the employees have been deviating from established procedures already, you may only be changing procedures in order to comply with established practices or to create compliance with established procedure.
    • What the new policy is.
    • Concrete goals for complying with the new procedure. Think of these as benchmarks that allow people to know if they’re succeeding. For example, if you want to transition your office to “zero-based budgeting,” where the budget costs from the previous year aren’t assumed, then it makes sense to give your office benchmarks over the course of the year for how many departments need to be converted over to the new system.
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    Explain why the change is needed now. Inertia seems to apply to people’s behavior as much as it does to physics, and if people don’t think there’s an urgent reason to behave differently, it’s often difficult to get them to behave differently. While you may use your power as supervisor to coerce them into compliance, that approach will breed resentment, which will make it more difficult to implement change in the future.[3]
    • In establishing the sense of urgency, explain to the office why market pressures (like declining revenues) or opportunities make the suggested change the preferable option between two or more inevitable outcomes. For example, if you need to implement a four-day workweek, you may get some pushback, because people don’t like to work ten hour days. However, if the office is presented with the choice of a four-day workweek against the alternative of pay cuts or job losses, resistance is likely to be far less.
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    Distribute the summary of the new policy to the office. Once the policy has been explained to everyone, distribute two copies of the summary to the workers in your office. Have them sign one and keep another for themselves. That way you have a signed commitment that acknowledges the new policy and agrees to abide by it.[4]

Part 2
Implementing the Change

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    Give a warning in advance. Instead of just coming in one day and implementing the new policy, let your employees know a new policy is on the way. Then they'll have time to mentally prepare themselves to make the adjustment.
    • For example, if everyone in the office was going to have to take a new training class, instead of just putting them in the class one day, explain to them what the class is for, how long it will take, and what portion of the new credentialing requirements it represents (like a five-hour course in a ten hour certification).
    • People can be forgetful. It's always a good idea to issue periodic reminders as the clock winds down.
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    Take it one step at a time. Especially if you’re implementing a large change in procedure, it’s important to implement it in stages. Not only does it give your office staff the opportunity to make mistakes and become accustomed to the new procedures, it also gives you the opportunity to revise goals, manage expectations, and tweak the next stages of implementation. [5]
    • Establish a schedule for the transition and share the relevant parts with everyone who has to comply with it. That way, people have a better idea of what's expected of them.
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    Listen to feedback. Ultimately, the people tasked with adopting the new procedure are the ones who will ensure it is adopted successfully. If you’re interested in the success of the new procedure, then you need to make sure you’re listening to the problems the people who are implementing it are encountering. After all, unless you’re infallible, there are probably a few circumstances you didn’t foresee.[6]
    • Some managers think listening to employee feedback is a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it shows the manager is secure enough in their authority to adapt to changing circumstances. Whereas a manager in danger of losing their job might have a legitimate fear of being upstaged by a subordinate, one who is secure in their position can listen to and credit subordinates for their input
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    Reward high performers. Rewarding high performers is a classic method of overcoming resistance. It creates additional incentives to comply with the new policy and it creates counterincentives toward following the group mentality in the case of widespread resistance to change. [7]
    • For example, if you had to switch the record-keeping system from paper files to electronic files, you might reward anyone who coverts a certain number of files with a gift certificate to a nice restaurant, a paid day off, or a trip to the spa.

Part 3
Deciding if the Time is Right for Change

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    Estimate the cost of implementing the new procedure. Even if making a change is the right thing to do, it isn’t always the right time to make a change. In order to know if the time is right, you need to have an idea of the costs of making the change in procedure.[8]
    • Consider the monetary cost of the materials necessary for the change in procedure. In the electronic filing example, this might be the costs of the software and hardware for the new filing system, the cost of removing the physical infrastructure for the paper filing system, and any costs of refurbishing the office space as a result of either.
    • Factor in the costs in lost productivity from the employees having to learn a new system.
    • Consider the costs in lost opportunities. While your staff is busy transcribing records, they’re not out drumming up other business or attending to customers’ needs. This is also a component you must factor in when you weigh the cost of change.
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    Weigh the estimated costs against your organization’s resources. Once you’ve got a good idea of the possible costs of the new change in procedure, you can compare it to your organization’s resources.[9]
    • While you want to consider things like time and money, it’s important to factor in the margin for error as well. Not only should you be able to afford the new procedure in terms of money and resources now, but you need to be able to afford it if something goes wrong as well.
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    Make sure your customer base will tolerate the change. You’re most likely implementing a new procedure because you want to be able to better serve the customers you have and find new customers down the road. If your customers won’t tolerate the temporary inefficiencies created by the change, it might be best to put it off.[10]
    • Not only do you need to make sure the timing is good for you and your organization, you also need to make sure it’s good timing for your customers as well. For example, if you provide logistics services to local retailers, suddenly becoming less efficient around the holidays is probably a poor strategy.

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Categories: Work World