The Art of Managing Change Revealed

Posted by Robin at 1:34 PM on Sep 5, 2013


So, your restructuring plans are all in place. You have a clear idea of what you need to do to prepare your company/division/team for the challenging economic conditions ahead. You know the numbers, the skills you’ll need to retain; you have a clear idea of the selection processes and what consultation structures are needed.

You’ll be OK. Or will you?

Even if you have got the balance right to push through the downturn and still have the skills to build again once the upturn comes (and it will come) have you done everything you could have done to make these changes a success?

The answer is probably no if you’re not thinking about Change Management.

Change management is important because, well, people are people. They have emotions. And whether they are going to be made redundant, which we all recognise as an incredibly difficult emotional journey, or they are going to survive to work with your team another day they will all find this period of change extremely unsettling.

Change management is essentially about managing the messages that you give to your employees to achieve the behaviours that you desire from them. It’s about anticipating how they might feel and being ready to deal with their emotions as they arise.

So why do these emotions matter? Surely, if we start getting behaviours that hinder our work effort, that resist the changes we need to make to survive then we can performance management them or even discipline them.

Well, yes you can. But then you really only can manage your employees up to, what could be considered, the minimum standards expected for a role – after all you can’t sack somebody for delivering against what the job description asks for. And then what about all that discretionary effort that you may not realise is probably the lifeblood of your success to date: the working late to finish orders for imminent delivery; the weekend hours to help your customers; even the messages your employees share about your business to potential customers that they know in their private lives. All of this is discretionary effort and it tends to go out of the window when employees feel that have not been treated well.

And even if discretionary effort is not an issue, wouldn’t you prefer to run a change process with the minimum amount of resistance from your people and not have to resort to the likes of performance management or disciplinary processes.

This is why change management is so important – it is precisely because it accounts for the potential reactions of real people, where a paper planning process alone can’t, that it matters so much.

In essence, change management is really about managing your communications to cater for the emotions that you should expect to have to deal with. It begins by identifying the individuals that have a stake in the change, understanding their needs at particular points on the change journey, and understand what you need them to understand and what role you would like them to play.

If you think about a redundancy programme your obvious stakeholders will be the employees you are making redundant. But then don’t forget about the employees who work alongside them – how do you want them to feel, what behaviours would you like them to exhibit? What role would you like them to play? Then there are the team leaders: the people who have to give the messages. And the management team beyond: what behaviours would you want them to be displaying and what messages do you want them to be giving?

As I alluded to above, change management needs to help leaders adapt to your people’s changing needs on the change journey. Back in the 60’s Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed a model to anticipate the stages a person will go through when they encounter a situation that causes them to grieve. It turned out this model, the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, had applicability way beyond its original application and it has since proved to be very effective in forecasting and therefore managing how people in work environments deal with difficult change.

Understanding where someone is likely to be on the curve can help us determine the kind of support someone might need and when best to give it to them. For example, if you anticipate a range of reactions progressing from denial to anger when you first communicate your redundancy message then you can prepare your leaders who are giving the message to more effectively manage those particular reactions.

By using effective, proven change management methodologies you are giving your organisation the best possible chance of delivering against your best expectations for the change programme you are about to embark on.

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