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When change is inevitable

ManagementEdward KiledjianComment

In every organization and at every position, managers are expected to manage change. As the old axiom goes "Change Is the Only Constant".

Managing change is not difficult if you have the correct mindset. In this post, I will walk you through some of the high-level steps. It is important that you go into the situation with the proper mindset and realistic expectations.

UNDERSTANDING A CHANGE

In order to manage organizational change efficiently, you need to first understand what change is. In its simplest form, it is the end of a specific way of doing things. Like any end of life, people will often mourn what they lost and reminisce about the old days. Although this comparison may seem extreme, I assure you it is not. You must accept the fact that your employees see it this way and improperly handling the situation will lead to a severe drop in employee productivity.

  • If a friend lost a loved one, how would you help them cope?
  • What would you say?
  • How would you behave?

Instinctively you know that there will be a grieving process and that this process must take place in order for the person to move forward.

  • There is no right way to grieve: Grief is never logical or organized but emotional. It does not happen in predictable stages. Your employees will go through highs and will experience incredible lows. Every person or group will experience it differently and there is no right way of grieving. You have to let it take its natural course.
  • Emotions and behavior: Employees may face a whole spectrum of emotions from guilt and despair, from anger to fear. As the employees go through these various emotions, their performance may be erratic (which is why performance takes a hit).
  • Allow enough time: Just like there's no right way to grieve, there is no timetable for the grieving process. Some employees will get over the change within days and others will lament for months.

HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY MANAGE CHANGE

In the next couple of lines, I'm going to share some guidelines on how to manage the situation. If there is one ultimate take away however, it is that you should communicate, communicate and then communicate some more. If you have a small team, take the time to individually talk to each of your employees. If you manage a larger team, mandate that your managers meet their employees.

In order to manage the situation effectively and quickly, you need to quickly determine the concerns your employees have and the only way to do that, is through open and honest dialogue. For the process to take place, employees need to be absolutely convinced that they can speak freely without fear of repercussion or persecution.

Some general guidelines:

  • Acknowledge their feelings: let your employees know that their emotions are normal. Explain to them that they need to work through these emotions based on fact and not let their imagination get carried away. Allow them to freely express their feelings. Do not judge.
  • Be a good listener: pick up any book on communication and I guarantee that they will stress this point. This is one of the core tenets of efficient communication. Consumer research has shown that 85% of unsatisfied customers would forgive a transgression and repurchase your product if you simply listen to them. Same principle here!
  • Be the rock: your employees need to see you as a bedrock of stability. Your entire management team needs to exude confidence that the change is positive. Take the time to explain to your people why the change happened, what the consequences would have been without the change and how the change will positively impact your employees.

Don't be quick to judge based on external appearances. Some employees may not exhibit any of the telltale signs of dissatisfaction or concern in public but what they do in private may be very different. Know your people. Look for even the slightest sign of anomalous behavior.

As I mentioned earlier, you must communicate honestly, fully and regularly. Don't worry about over communicating, that will never be the case during change. Each company and situation is different. Evaluate all of your different communication options, these can include newsletters,  e-mails, billboards, meetings, etc. Define your communication strategy with a clear message. Make sure your message is consistent and congruent with your actions.

REAL WORLD EXAMPLE

I have been asked to manage a lot of change during my career but more often than not, it has been related to some kind of merger or acquisition.

In one example, our company was being acquired by a much larger organization. As expected during any acquisition, the new owners expected quick compliance with their policies. Within a very short window, our employees: were relocated into new offices, had all of the employee policies changed, and were integrated into a much larger organization (sometimes into different teams). I have always made it my business to very quickly understand each of my employees, their motives, their way of thinking and their values. This knowledge allows me to quickly identify the most problematic situation and address those first.

As soon as the acquisition was announced, I organize a Townhall (within minutes) to share the news in person. I explained why the company was sold, why the organization bought us, and how they would be impacted. To be clear, I didn't sugarcoat or hide anything. As always, I was truthful and direct but sincere and sensitive to their feelings. Most of the employees were concerned about their jobs, about having to learn new processes and procedures, and about long-term friendships being broken up.

During the first three months, I had a morning Townhall every other day. I allowed employees to voice their concerns (always ensuring that they were respectful) and oftentimes the group worked as a therapy session. I used the sessions to address their concerns but also to share new developments and information as it was made available. If information came to me between these meetings, I would make sure that it was distributed to the employees through e-mail. I was responsible for a good number of employees so I asked each of the departmental managers to meet with their employees. I shared strict guidelines and expectations with them. I very closely monitored their interaction with the employees and ensured that the employees knew that my door was always open. In turn, I used to meet with each of the managers on a weekly basis.

As an executive, you are expected to "act like an adult". It is your job to find the positive in any of these situations. Find the positive and share it with the employees over and over. Explain to them how this can be a good thing. In this specific situation, I explained how the larger company offered much more possiblities to the employees. I ensured that the employees have an opportunity to meet the executives of the new company and to see that they too were human. I made sure these new owners explained in their words why they bought the company and what their plans were.

Working with the new executives, I organized the mentoring program where senior employees of the new company mentored employees from my organization. This gave them a chance to see the new company, talk to their new colleagues and start building new bonds.

Our company had tons of marketing items that were no longer useful. Instead of throwing them in the trash like many would have done, I allowed employees to take them home and keep them as souvenirs and keepsakes. In my specific situation, I believe this helped. If you do use this method, make sure that employees don't use this as a crutch to stay attached to the old ways.

CONCLUSION

Expect employees to overreact. Expect irrational erratic behavior. It is all completely normal. Your job, as a manager, is to project a positive image and become their stable rock. Communicate often with integrity and honesty and help people grieve and move on. There are unfortunate situations where some employees may simply be unable to move forward. Regardless of how much help and counseling you provide, some people may simply be stuck in the past and resentful about the future. In these situations, after all other avenues have been exhausted, you may have to let some of these people go. A couple of bad apples can contaminate the entire bunch, so be careful.

As you're managing the situation, don't neglect yourself. You are human and have emotions. But unlike your employees, you have to find a way to manage yourself. Be your own counselor. Find the positive and share it.