Change is good, but it’s seldom easy. As a HR professional you will frequently encounter periods of change, from mergers and buyouts, to downsizing or expanding. Even seemingly small shifts such as adopting a new system or process, or having a new team member join the ranks, can (on a practical level) require lots of change management.
The consequences of change can be far-reaching to any business, and while we ultimately hope that all change is for the good, that interim period can be problematic. Helping your employees navigate the shifting tides of any change within your organisation is a vital element in the role of any HR manager or CEO.
You’re the ones dealing first-hand with it and any employee mishaps that occur as a result of changes in your business.
There are so many ways a business can transform, often literally overnight. And while the moves you make to develop your business will enable your company to remain competitive, they also have a profound effect on your organisational structure, and generally, disrupt the status quo.
It’s natural for your team to experience a certain level of anxiety and tension when change occurs, and without a proper change management process, it can be extremely challenging to help them overcome these issues.
The key is creating balanced dynamics to help your employees manage change. Here’s how to do it…
As a leader within your organisation (be that in a managerial role or as a director) it’s important to guide the development of your team. This should occur on an ongoing basis, but during times of change, it’s particularly important to offer everyone direction and reassurance. Understanding the group dynamics at work within your business is vital.
Watching and listening will go a long way here. It’s easy to get sucked into the trap of feeling like you need to act in order to lead, but often you don’t learn what actions need to be taken without first observing. Part of this is letting your team know they can trust you, use you as a sounding board, and will always be heard regardless of the nature of their concerns.
At times of transition, ensuring your team feel heard is particularly important.
Change is usually looming on the horizon, if not already overtaking you. Whether you’re looking at a major restructuring or a simple modification to a process that’s well-established, knowing what your team are thinking and feeling is the first step to effectively helping them manage the change.
Employees may well express any concerns and anxieties to you directly, but often that very anxiety manifests in other ways, such as changes in behaviour, and diminished performance.
This is particularly true if the change in question threatens their comfort and the stability of their routines. Take the pulse of your organisation, observe your team at work, listen when they come to you, and listen as they banter with each other. You’ll learn a great deal about their concerns and thoughts, and can take effective action to help them manage those concerns, mitigate repercussions, and reassure them. At our recent event Balanced Dynamics, Claire McLean talked about the importance of communicating with employees at the earliest possible opportunity. Creating an open and honest channel of communication will help you understand how your employees are feeling about any changes.
We all know that great results are only achieved when everyone is performing at peak efficiency. And yet, when any member of the team (or your crew as a whole) is struggling to hit their targets and work at the top end of their game, the burden of helping them rests with you.
Not only are you ultimately responsible for them, but they will also naturally look to management for solutions.
When they’re feeling uncertain or isolated from the decisions of your organisation (which frequently occurs when change is thrust upon them), they will come to you for guidance.
Change is a loss of control.
Once you’re clearly aware of how they’re thinking and feeling, it’s important to take positive action. Speaking to them about the change is all well and good, but they will hear your actions far louder than your words.
That is not to say you shouldn’t communicate – ensuring an honest and fully transparent dialogue, and clear, easy lines of communication between your employees and management is a great first step.
Once you’re aware of an issue, however, you need to be seen to be doing more than just talk about it. Not only will this allow you to solve any issues that are arising, it allows you to maintain influence over your team, and ensure they are receiving the support they need.
In a similar vein, the process of change generally means that you need to expand the channels of communication within your firm. Your employees are going to be hungrier than ever for answers and information.
Whatever your regular forms of communication are, beef them up. Give everyone the chance to have input into the situation. Be available, and ask them more questions.
Ensuring you’re as visible as possible at such times is also essential, as is ensuring you’re keeping everyone updated regularly. Remember, it’s virtually impossible to over-communicate, so the more you can do here the better.
HR expert Claire Mclean was also supported by her fellow speakers as she emphasized the importance of honest two-way communication with Simon Schumann-Davies adding, “Honesty is everything. Be transparent and people will get on board.”
There will be some issues that require long term thought and planning before you can effectively rectify them. Yet there will be other problems that arise which have an immediate fix.
Fix the fixable.
The more you can address the concerns that are relatively easily managed, the more faith your team will have that the larger, more complex problems will eventually be fixed.
For example, a lot of uncertainty arises due to simple misunderstandings and miscommunication. As soon as you’re aware of such instances, rectify them immediately. Clarify what’s murky, and dispel any anxieties.
A simple reassuring word and note of guidance from management goes a long way. Logistical issues can often be actioned swiftly – for example, hiring an additional member of staff if there’s a lot of stress being caused by unmanageable workloads, or purchasing a new piece of software or equipment that will make a process or task more effective or efficient.
There will be issues that are beyond the scope of your abilities to instantly fix. Resist the urge to promise things that can’t be delivered, even if you know you’ll be able to do it eventually – we tend to hear what we want to hear. If you say you’re going to fix something, and it doesn’t immediately happen, the natural response in many of your team will be doubt.
Rather than promise them a fix you don’t have a clear timeframe for, talk through the possibilities with them, ensure they’re aware of the reasons you’re unable to immediately solve the problem, and reassure them that you’ll keep working until you find a fix.
One of the best ways to help everyone manage a change and keep those team dynamics balanced is to maintain a positive mental attitude. Take the time to check your view of events and shift your outlook to one that is as positive as possible.
Beyond that, encourage and challenge your team to be positive also. What new solutions can they seek? What new ideas can they concoct? How can they find ways to streamline processes, save money?
It’s easy for change to leave people feeling under-appreciated. When you encourage them to take the initiative, you’re helping them to move forward, focus on the things that can be done, and help you to take that all-important action.
The climate in your company is largely determined by the attitudes of the management. Maintaining a positive attitude is key to retaining control of the atmosphere. With so much confusion and stress coming from change, keeping yourself positive, enthusiastic and upbeat is a powerful way to uplift your team and compensate for any lack they are experiencing in these areas.
One of the most helpful steps you can take to ensure everything remains balanced through a period of change is effectively preparing and training your staff. If you have the budget and resources available, giving people the opportunity to learn new skills ahead of the change helps them transition more easily.
Change often requires employees to take on new roles and responsibilities, shift into new positions with different expectations and needs, or adopt new processes, practices, software or systems.
While you may not have a crystal ball to tell you exactly what you and your team should expect, when you know change is on its way attempting to predict the repercussions and issues that may arise as a result, and proactively preparing everyone for them is incredibly helpful. According to Simon, a huge part of being a successful HR professional is developing your influencing skills. Highlighting the benefits of your new plan and showing others in the business what they need to do will influence how they perceive the changes when they do come into play.
On a practical level, it makes it less likely the transition will negatively impact the business, and will keep any period of diminished productivity due to uncertainty and confusion to a minimum. On a people level, the fact you’ve thought ahead, realised the coming change will be uncomfortable for your people, and given them the tools and time to avoid (or at least mitigate) that will go a long way to allaying their fears. If needed, they also need to know you’ve looked for work for them in other areas or organizations, should it become a necessity.
Here’s the thing about change: it’s awkward, uncomfortable, and invariably met with resistance.
This isn’t generally because your employees are against change, but rather due to their reticence to being changed.
We are all individuals and value our individuality, autonomy, and the sense of control we work so hard to cultivate in life. When things are suddenly changed around us without our consent, causing big shifts and major changes to our daily activities or an environment we spend a lot of time in, it feels like an assault on that individuality.
The ability to choose one’s own fate, and the sense you are in some way driving the course of one’s life is one of the fundamental needs that all humans share.
Change more frequently makes your people uncomfortable because they aren’t given a choice in it, and feel out of control, rather than being due to an issue with what is actually changing.
This problem is compounded by the fact there’s usually a considerable lag time between the point at which management first broach the subject of the change, and the point at which it’s finally ready to be implemented.
It leaves people twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do but dwell on their insecurities and mull on the unfairness of it all.
So while managers are busy planning and happily telling themselves it’s going to be fine, the team are busily working on undermining all those future plans with a lot of (perfectly natural) negativity, and informal chats pinging about the company grapevine…
The easiest way to manage this is to simply involve your employees in the change. If you can, present them with options you’re considering and let them know that one of these things is going to happen, but which one is something they can have input on. What do they think? What concerns do they have?
Not only will you ease tensions surrounding the change, you may actually find they have viewpoints that help you make a better decision, and come to a plan that you wouldn’t otherwise have concocted.
Following on from this, once you’ve announced the change it’s important to ask your team, both as a group and individually, to commit to its successful implementation. Ensure they know that you are committed to the change and expect them to be equally devoted to it. You should be fim, but also flexible and reassure them that if any problems do arise, you want to know about them, and there will be no negative consequences for bringing such issues to your attention.
When employees are feeling negative they do one of two things: rant at each other, or rant at the boss. You need them to feel comfortable enough to rant at you, because if they rant at each other their negativity will spread and multiply.
On a side note, the commitment you’re expecting from them also needs to be evidenced in your own actions. Whatever this change is, follow it through to completion, don’t abandon it halfway through because the process has turned out a few negative consequences.
Remember, change is good, but it’s not easy. You generally have to navigate through the negative to find the positive on the other side.
One final piece of advice: don’t go easy on them.
When your team is struggling with a changing situation and you know they’re feeling anxious, uncertain, or trying to learn new things, it’s incredibly easy to relax your expectations. You let things slide, ignore bad attitudes because they seem understandable given the situation, excuse diminished productivity because it’s natural when trying to learn a new process, and generally gloss over behaviours and actions that, under any other circumstances, you wouldn’t tolerate.
Now isn’t the time to ease up on the reins. In fact, you should raise your expectation levels during times of transition, not lower them.
Your people may not practically be able to produce the same level of performance due to the need to learn new things, change processes, or integrate a new team member, but in all other areas you should expect them to rise to the challenge.
They’re likely to alter their work habits as a result of the change. Their attitude may change – particularly if they’re feeling negative about the transition – and it’s important to push them to work smarter, try harder, and aim for clear goals and milestones.
Just remember to make the goals you set realistic and achievable, and when they smash them, reward them.