The only certainty in business is change

19 May, 2017

There are smart—and not so smart—ways of taking your team with you when change is on the cards

Downsizing, restructuring, and organisational change are all terms that no longer describe a process that a business may implement occasionally—they are now terms used to describe business as usual.

The rate of change is only increasing. The thorough, mapped-out and strategised organisational changes of the past are gone.

Change impetus can come from many angles, be they competition, globalisation, disruptive innovation, new share economies, digitisation, changing demographics, the lack of customer loyalty or variations to consumer tastes.

To survive in such an environment, businesses must be constantly reinventing themselves.

Change, and particularly poor change management, can lead to workers feeling anxious and uncertain about aspects of their work or employment status.

If we know that organisational change can be stressful, and that stress in the workplace is a well-known factor for high turnover and sick leave, low morale, decrease in performance, and increased interpersonal conflict, it is a given that managing stress will be an integral part of the change management agenda.

Yet for most businesses, it is not.

Every business wants its changes to result in success, yet a significant barrier to achieving that success is being overlooked. If employees are stressed, they will be less receptive to change, or in some instances, openly resistant.

Change-resistant employees may become retention risks as well as engagement and productivity challenges. It is not surprising then that only one in four change initiatives are successful and meet their objectives.

Various studies over the years have identified several factors for successful organisation change including:  

Good leadership fundamentals

To effectively lead change, leaders need to firstly look at their own development. This involves understanding themselves and being open to changing their mindset, operating style and behaviour to meet the context and needs of the initiative. It is important that they are seen to lead by example, and match words to actions.

Communication of change

Communication is the most important strategy in achieving successful change. When communicating proposals for change, either concerning individual work conditions or larger changes to the work-team or company, key actions should include:

  • Ensuring the right person has been chosen to communicate the change—do they have the skills and authority to do so?
  • Explaining what the organisation is trying to achieve from the change (key objectives/vision) and discussing expected outcomes and timeframes with employees
  • Being upfront about any significant adjustments that will follow the proposed change (for example a restructure or the need to retrain workers) and
  • Establishing a communication system (for example meetings or emails) that keeps employees up to date with developments.

Paying attention to your employees

An organisation is only as good as its people. Even if the change process is done on time and budget, if employees are disengaged it is unlikely to be a success. Employee attitudes and readiness for change should be identified and the impact on employees should be monitored. Stress management and employee supports should be integral to the roll-out process.

Management training

Change management brings unique challenges to an organisations management, so it’s important that managers are upskilled and trained to be champions of change. Skills gaps should be identified early against important characteristics needed for the process such as communication skills, managing mental health issues such as stress, problem solving, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.

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