For many years now I have been advising spa directors and managers to make profound changes in their businesses in order to achieve survival or success. The plans I’ve offered have been correct, the reasoning sound, and the methods for implementing new programs feasible. But all too often there’s no follow-through on the plan. A major reason for this, I have discovered, is that while plenty of emphasis has been placed on the need for, and direction of, change within a company, not nearly enough has been invested in engineering the changes employees will confront and probably resist. That same resistance to change may also apply to the very directors and managers charged with bringing new practices and responsibilities to those they supervise. This condition makes the smooth transition from one way of doing business to another doubly challenging, and all too likely to fail. That said, let’s examine some of the chief causes for employee change resistance and what you can do to introduce new systems and procedures into your spa as comfortably and permanently as possible.
To begin with, why do employees resist change at all, even when you can clearly demonstrate that much of what you want to do is in the best interests of each individual, your clients and the company overall? The simple fact is that many people, once they learn and master a particular way of doing things, simply do not want to abandon it. There are many reasons for this, both obvious and unseen. Here are a few examples:
- If I change the way I perform my services, my clients might
complain or go away.
- I’m good at what I do now. What if I can’t do the new method
as well? Will I be fired?
- It took me long enough to gain the skills I have. Why do I have
to do it all over again?
- I’m happy with, and proud of, my way of doing things. Why does
the manager have the right to change them?
- I don’t see anything wrong with what we’ve been doing already!
When change threatens to expose employees to circumstances that may show weaknesses in competency, learning ability or personal adjustment we can naturally assume that resistance is sure to follow. You may have seen this when attempting to do things such as replace a product line, shorten the time allowed for performing a certain spa treatment, or asking your team to thoroughly read and comprehend the employee manual. It’s very common to discover that your new policies and practices have either not been learned or are not being observed properly. Fear of change founded in one’s own beliefs, personal skills assessment, or easily offended ego will often manifest in some of the following ways:
- Employees deciding that if they hold out long enough the
policies might not stick
- Proving (by ensuring) that the new methods are causing
problems in performance
- Expressing that customers are complaining about the new
policies and procedures
- Quickly rejecting the new products you’ve asked them to try
- Employees ganging up on management with negative absolutes,
such as “everyone says that they’re very unhappy!”
Recognize any of these? Even if members of your team seemed to be quite welcoming to your new ideas don’t be surprised when they come back to report their dissatisfaction and difficulty with them. They did their utter best to make things work but, alas, it’s just not to be so management now needs to decide on an alternate course! I call this sensible non-sense. It’s sensible because psychologically and, for the present mindset of the employee with that perspective, it is. But it’s also non-sense because management knows that what is being asked for is reasonable and within the capabilities of those required to do them, which is also true. Nevertheless, the impasse remains and the company cannot move forward until everyone is in the boat, and they are not. So, what to do?
Let’s begin with a deep breath and a bit of understanding. Fear is natural. We all feel it at different times and under various circumstances. While change might be an easy and even welcome experience for one, another might view it with trepidation or hostility. And since we have to live with the potential to elicit fear among employees, spa managers and directors will do well to couch the inevitable need for workplace change in a style and method that calms fear to the greatest possible degree. Imagine if after having learned to drive a car you were suddenly required to fly a plane based on your driving skills alone. Or, after having learned to speak Spanish over the course of a year or two you are now expected to master French over a weekend! This is how your team may receive an announcement of sudden and sweeping change at your spa. You’ll want to avoid that if you can.
Here’s my plan for a smooth and less fear-evoking introduction of new programs and procedures among your spa team. While it won’t work the same for everyone—and there are those that simply will fight virtually any disruption of habitual behavior or practices—it will remove many of the bumps ahead of your plans.
- Meet and have an open and frank discussion with everyone affected by the changes you want to implement. Start with an easy one, say, a new vacation scheduling policy. In this case you want to end the mad scramble for holiday vacations that inevitably disappoint those that ask for the time too late to get it approved. Ask for some employee feedback on the current vacation scheduling system, particularly regarding the sudden request overload during high-demand periods such as summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Try to get the team to recognize the problems associated with the current policy where anyone can ask for time but most will be denied the opportunity. Then ask for suggestions on potential solutions to the problem that you can incorporate into an eventual new and fair approach to granting employee vacations. Though individuals are often reluctant to speak up in an open forum, you have at least sought employee input before initiating change without it. Buy-in helps when it comes to enacting policies and rules that affect the lives and working methods of those you manage. Get as much feedback and help as possible before proceeding to the next step.
- Once you’ve chosen a course of action meet again to carefully explain the details of the plan. Imposing new company policies without a careful introduction to employees often results in confusion, resentment and poor compliance. Many spa directors and managers, particularly those that have difficulty dealing directly with employee emotions, will elect to simply enact change as a matter of fact rather than a cooperative company effort. This is bad policy, and it will backfire. You will want to introduce the new policy in a group meeting, explain how it works and what it will require of each individual to comply with it, then, answer any questions with sensitivity. Many employees will expect only the worst potential outcome as a response to fear-evoking change. Your job is to help them through the uncertaintyuntil such a time when they realize that your plan is not as devastating or difficult as imagined. Wow,they might even come to appreciate it!
- Handle post-change employee misgivings on a one-to-one basis. Don’t get ganged up on by a disgruntled individual that has managed to pull in afew supporters among your team members. Sometimes others feel obligated to go along with a colleague or friend that has a grievance over company policy, whether they themselves feel similarly or not. You want to only address the facts of the matter, not some supposed mass militancy that’s opposed to your plans. Once the individual realizes that they have to press their own case with management they are far less likely to do it, or, when they do, more likely to back down in the face of reason and firmness. Keep in mind that your decisions have the best interests of everyone in mind, not just management. Belief in the good nature of your work will help you through the rockiness of change. Being an effective listener with nervous employees will go far in winning them over to your side of the equation.
- Be prepared to let the recalcitrant employee go.
Simply said, it’s better to lose an intransigent and disruptive employee than waste time and damage morale trying to win an unwinnable struggle. At this point it’s good to admit that you’re at an impasse and that the unhappy party needs to find a more personally compatible employment situation.
- Go slowly—one policy at a time—and then repeat steps 1-3 for each change that is likely to elicit fear in your team!
Okay, take it from here, and be confident that you have the means to perform the necessary policy remodeling with less rumble and risk. Our best to you!