Managing change

If we are honest, most of us do not enjoy change in our lives because it takes us out of our comfort zone into something that is new and unfamiliar. But of course change in the workplace is quite inevitable, so in this article we take a look at how you can prepare for it and help employees to understand the need for any change so that you can make the transition as smooth as possible.

Change in the workplace can be either planned or unplanned and even though it is usually characterised by a desire to improve things, it will undoubtedly affect individuals and the organisation as a whole. This can range from a minor change, such as the introduction of new training courses or company policies right up to major changes such as mergers, redundancies, re-structuring and the introduction of completely new working practices.

Both internal and external pressures can cause change in the workplace, this could be changes in global markets, technology or even government legislation, whilst internal pressures could be the need to review company policies and procedures, accommodation or pay structures.  Every situation is unique and every organisation is different but there are common elements to managing most types of change in the workplace.

As an employer you should:

•    Plan for change – although some change will come totally out of the blue it is better to review a plan than to have no plan at all.
•    Provide good leadership – this is particularly important during times of uncertainty when employees need reassurance and clarity.
•    Keep up to date with the law – In particular TUPE legislation covering redundancies for transfer of undertakings.

Change needs to be managed pro-actively and well for the following reasons:

•    Economic survival – the need to develop new products or retrain staff.
•    Accountability – effective change management gives a chance to explain what you are going to do and why, both internally to your team and externally to your customers.
•    Effective management – rushed unplanned change can damage the confidence of staff and your customers.
•    Employment relations – badly managed change can cause long lasting resentment and bad feeling.

Consulting your employees about change
Very often employers will need to consult with employees due to a legal requirement during periods of major change such as redundancies, mergers or transfer of undertakings (TUPE). This consultation will help to maintain performance and productivity by improving employee engagement; engaged employees are far more likely to adapt better to change and have an easier emotional journey through the process too. This is because they know they will be consulted regularly and given some say in the decision making process and because they can identify with the future success of the company. There are also legal rules and timescales that have to be followed in any TUPE case so make sure you take advice at the earliest opportunity.

What will your employees want to know about a change?
When you talk to your employees about any change to the organisation and their working lives they will often want:

•    To question any plans and the reason behind them
•    Their concerns will be listened to by senior managers
•    Reassurance about how the changes will affect them personally
•    Clear direction and leadership

What feelings might people experience during a period of major change?

Change can affect the way people feel emotionally, mentally and even physically. Although change is generally seen as negative, this may not always be the case, for example during a period of re-organisation employees may feel their jobs are under threat, but they may also feel they have the opportunity to achieve improved career fulfilment. Employees will typically go through a range of emotions whilst major change is taking place ranging from anxiety, happiness and fear and gradually there will be acceptance before the final stage, moving forward.

As you will see, there is much to consider when managing change in the workplace and we hope that this checklist provides you with a useful reference point.

To manage change effectively you need to:

1. Communicate and Consult
•    Develop an internal communications strategy to put across your key messages
•    Talk to your internal and external customers directly through targeted communications
•    Involve everyone in making decisions through effective and timely consultation
•    Improve your employees’ understanding of the need for change and gain their commitment
•    Identify and address employees’ concerns
•    Tap into the knowledge and creativity of your staff.

2. Know your legal duties, particularly around issues such as:
•    Contracts of employment
•    Redundancies
•    Lay-offs
•    TUPE
•    Flexible working
•    The Information and Consultation of Employees regulations (ICE).

3. Understand the emotional journey that every individual goes through when faced with change – from hearing the news right through to coming to terms with the after effects. This journey typically involves feeling:
• Anxiety – can I cope?
• Happiness – at last something is going to change!
• Fear – what impact will the change have on me?
• Threat – the problem is bigger than I thought
• Guilt – are the past failings down to me?
• Disillusionment – this is not for me so I’m leaving
• Acceptance – maybe things won’t be so bad
• Excitement – I’m looking forward to the challenge.

4. Demonstrate strong leadership, especially in a difficult economic climate, by:
• Creating a vision for the future
• Linking individual and teams goals to organisational targets
• Setting an example
• Walking the floor and being seen
• Creating an organisational culture based on open-ness and trust.

5. Engage with employees to:
• Get the best out of them in terms of performance
• Cement their commitment to the organisation
• Help line managers trigger positive discretionary behaviour

6. Use problem-solving techniques such as:
• Force field analysis
• SWOT analysis
• Cause and effect analysis
• Root cause analysis
• Brainstorming
• Teambuilding

Managing change in the workplace properly is undoubtedly a challenging task but I hope that this article and checklist provide you with some useful guidance and direction on how best to manage any change in your organisation so that you can make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone concerned. But as ever if you would like help and advice on managing a period of change in your workplace then please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.