The water is cold, but it’s not a question of whether or not you get in. You are definitely getting in. The question is: do you jump in and get it over with, or do you wade in slowly, bit by bit, until you’re finally submerged?

That’s the question faced by any company on the verge of a significant workplace change. And as we enter a new world of work made up of always-changing processes, people and technology, it seems to be that the only constant in business today is change.

But anyone who has ever stood on that edge agrees that the two possible answers — jump or wade in — each have their pros and cons.

Fast change

As forward-thinking as your company may be, some employees will still resist workplace change. That’s just how people are. And that’s fine. In this context, fast change is better. It gives resistant employees one thing to cope with — change as a whole — rather than having to deal with a series of disgruntling changes over a long period of time.

Professors Elspeth Murray and Peter Richardson of Queen’s University in Ontario take it further. They recommend dealing with resistance “ruthlessly” to eliminate “the ‘drag’ in the process that can prevent the buildup of momentum.” In their view, lack of momentum is the kiss of death for any workplace change management process, so any successful change has to be swift. They recommend managers limit their priorities to two to four major items, chase them hard and fast, and insist on early, tangible deliverables.

If placing demands on workers during a speedy transition sounds cruel, here’s the silver lining: it gets their minds off all that distracting workplace change, and provides positive reinforcement. Momentum is derived from the commitment of the workforce, and a committed workforce is one that feels like it’s making progress.

Incremental change

That said, no company can afford to totally ignore that workplace change is, in fact, disorienting. It’s hard to find anyone these days telling managers to “take it slow,” but it’s even harder to find someone who advises against open lines of communication. And true communication among employees and managers inevitably adds time to the process.

Employees “need assurances that employers are concerned and will do as much as possible to assist them during unsettling times.” But open communication means more than that. As systems scientist and MIT lecturer Peter Senge has said, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”

Solving problems and shaping our environments is satisfying and inspiring, so it’s important that employees get to voice not only their experiences, but also their ideas and suggestions. Empowering employees to be agents of workplace change introduces new channels that need to be tended and managed to encourage growth. Which, again, takes time and energy. But what you gain in morale and participation — not to mention the bright ideas your employees may come up with — more than balances the cost.

Final thoughts

Companies today are urged to be quick and agile. And you can’t deny that the quicker you get in the pool, the more time you’ll spend swimming. But companies should also heed another old saying: be sure to look before you leap. In the end, the speed at which you change is unique to you and you alone – and the better you understand your workforce, the easier it will be to manage workplace change.

You don’t need to go it alone. Reach your change management goals with help from the experts