Businesses need to adapt to changing climatesAlthough everyone is looking to David Cameron and Nick Clegg to bring stability to the economy it is clear that all of us - collectively - will take some form of hit in order to eventually gain that stability.
Businesses having spent last year at the worst case trying to stay alive and at the best just trying to maintain the status quo, have begun to realise that they need to evolve, that they need to change whether they like it or not in order to survive. This is even truer in todays economy. So we have the situation where individuals are facing change both at home and at work.
Change - a daunting prospect for leaders
Most leaders and managers approach the thought of change with horror. Hardly surprising when theyre being asked to focus on so many areas - sustaining client loyalty, reducing costs, increasing cash, maximising the use of technology, realising the potential of the employee base, etc. The list is endless and daunting.
Added to this, many leaders and managers probably have little experience of doing either in a change environment; many having started their career after the last recession of the early 90s. In the old days - say two years ago - such managers would have bought in consulting firms to effect the change. They would have been one step removed from the action and the buck. Today, this isnt an option. Due to economic necessity, like it or not, leading and managing business change is being brought firmly in house.
How do employees usually react to change?
Employees too approach change with trepidation. Who hasnt got a war story of a change initiative theyve been through which has had a wizzy name and perhaps even a brand but failed to deliver anything apart from a lot of upheaval, much pain, extra work and brought no tangible client/customer Benefits, and cost millions?
This trepidation isnt helped by the changes happening externally to the business, frequent press reports of potential job losses, government spending cuts and predicted rate increases.
Supporting employees through change
So how do you manage the people side of change given the current mood? Its important to treat people like adults - sounds logical but we dont often do it. Adults need to understand the reason for the change (be it for example, a merger, restructuring, new IT implementation or even the introduction of new working practices to support taking a new product/service to market), what part they will need to play and why, and the desired outcome of the change.
They also need to know that they will be supported in gaining new skills and learning new ways of working to effect the change. And, perhaps most importantly, they need to feel they have an input into the changes that are going to affect them.
The role of HR in affecting change
HR professionals have a key role to play in change initiatives very often being tasked with handling the people element often known as the soft issues.
It can sometimes be difficult to get leadership support and sponsorship for driving forward these soft issues, as they are often seen as less important than the more business/operational elements of the change. How do you overcome this? By making the people element relate directly to business and business delivery.
How to tackle organisation restructure
Restructuring the organisation and need to sell it in and get leadership support?
Consider the following:
- Talk about what the restructure looks like and the people that will be impacted
- Talk about the business drivers that have led to a review of how the organisation works
- Discuss how the new restructure will allow the business to operate in a more cost effective way (giving figures)
- Discuss how the change will provide enhanced delivery capability (both internal and external) and flexibility to develop and deliver new products whilst providing the standard of service clients/customers have been seeking
- If you were leading a business, what would you want to hear?
How to create a culture of change
Dont assume that leaders and managers understand how to effect change. Few have done it before and will be apprehensive of failure.
As part of a companys training programme, all leaders and managers should undergo a comprehensive course in managing change.
- Learning to assess what they want to change
- How they want to change it and why (vision)
- How they are going to effect the change
- What they should change first in order to create the most significant impact
- Understanding and balancing the risks and costs
- Leading their people and picking themselves up from the inevitable knocks on the way.
But dont wait for change to be a company imperative before introducing these courses. Make them compulsory for all managers. Change is happening all the time within companies, its what keeps them alive.
The importance of communication in leading change
As I explain in my book, Change: Bring It On! it's essential that you communicate with stakeholders clearly and effectively in order to remove the uncertainty. People must know and understand why something is happening in order to accept it. By accept it, I dont mean like it. The best you can hope for in the beginning of any change initiative is for people to say 'I get it but...' People must also know what they are expected to do and why.
Dont think that one set of messages fits all. Tailor all messages for each stakeholder group, talk about their world. Remember that communication is two way. So that your organisation doesnt fall into the poor communication trap, view communication as a continuous conversation with stakeholders.
Make everyone in the organisation responsible for good communications (up-skill where necessary), and at the same time make sure the senior managers are speaking from the same page and that messages are consistent. Encourage them to get out and about and talk with people. And finally, make sure feedback received is listened to and actions were appropriate are taken.