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This article was published 29/4/2017 (1193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MANAGERS in organizations don’t need to look very far to see examples of major failures in how best to manage a major organizational change process. In fact, we just need to look south at our next-door continental neighbours. Major new change initiatives are not going well.
However, despite the fact apologies are not expected, I am certain one day the U.S. president will realize signing executive orders and "dictating" change is a practice that simply doesn’t work.
Believe me, organizational change is not easy. It is a complex, long-term strategic process that must be effectively managed. That’s because major change creates stress for employees at all levels of an organization. Thus, failing to recognize, accept and plan for the people side of change typically results in considerable organizational chaos.
Rapid change is so disruptive it sends employees into a "spin" or survival mode, where everyone is holding their breath waiting for the next directive to occur.
This chaos then often translates into key employees leaving their organization and a demonstration of explicit resistance behaviour by managers as well as employees.
In addition, there will be a substantial increase in stress and absenteeism and a decline in productivity and morale. In many cases, when directives come from senior executive leaders without collaborative management support, middle managers themselves often become fearful of making decisions — which, in turn, only increases the confusion.
Then again, it is the middle managers who will be under the gun with respect to the barrage of questions they will be asked.
While much research strongly supports the idea that the key to successful change is the active and visible backing from organizational leaders, this does not just mean barking orders, setting impossible deadlines and then blaming others for a lack of commitment. There is a lot more to change than this.
Major change in any organization can take up to five years before it is normalized and it requires the development of a strong change management plan. The plan must include the involvement of key people in the organization, the training of these key participants or leaders, constant ongoing diagnosis and feedback, the development and implementation of good communication strategies and celebrations of ongoing success.
At the same time, we know a one-size-fits-all approach to change doesn’t work. In other words, there is no one right answer. This makes it even more important to review and consider the value systems and culture of your organization when anticipating and planning for change.
Equally important, leaders must give strong consideration to the needs of employees, because no matter what, employees view change as "personal."
While I can’t speak to all the nuances of a total change management plan in this article, in my view, a key strategy for managers is to understand the change management cycle and be able to coach employees at each stage so that acceptance and commitment is the ultimate result.
The change cycle is based on the death and dying research by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the late 1960s.
Her research resulted in the recognition of distinct emotional reactions and the development of a change cycle to correspond to these emotions. Over the years, this research has now been applied to any change, both positive and negative. In other words, no matter what, when change happens, something ends and something begins.
The following explains the cycle and how coaching and support can assist employees to move more smoothly toward your change goal.
Shock and denial
This first stage of the change cycle occurs because people are usually content with the status quo, as it provides a sense of stability. At this stage, be sure to give as much information as you can to help people understand the "why" for the change. Meet with employees one-on-one if you can, then create a question-and-answer sheet so that all responses are consistent. Continue the discussion when you see a person is still in shock.
At this point, employees often become critical of themselves but continue to waver back and forth between shock, denial and blaming. It is important at this point for managers to be the best listeners they can be. Let people vent, be patient as they work through this stressful time. Help employees move the blame away from themselves but also don’t make excuses. Change is inevitable even though we often don’t expect it.
With so much confusion and uncertainty, employees often suffer from lack of sleep that in turn leads to fatigue, and sometimes, worry and depression. This is a time when a lot of questions are asked regarding the specifics of work and reporting structures. It all comes down to "What is going to happen to me?" Go ahead and provide pointers and advice, but be sure to avoid comments that dismiss an employee’s feelings.
During this change, emotions will be high and sometimes unpredictable. Employees often will find themselves distrusting the reason for the change and searching for an alternative and/or unspoken rationale. Employees will begin to question the change and try to find ways they can influence the situation to create a different outcome. Use this time to provide plenty of discussion; provide opportunities for employees to be involved in resolving some of the problems that will inevitably arise with the change.
At this point, which could come at any time within the first year of a major change, employees start focusing on the future instead of what they feel was lost; they begin exploring and testing themselves within the new environment. They begin to look at opportunities instead of problems. Stay connected and communicate regularly so that employees don’t slip back into doubt and confusion.
As managers, you also must come to grips with your own anxiety and response to the organizational change. You, too, may well go into "career survival" at the same time as your employees. This creates extra complexity because your job now becomes the task of looking after your own mental health but also that of your employees. This is often a difficult task and you need to be focused and always appear strong.
Keep in mind all eyes will be on management as the change cycle progresses. Therefore, be very aware of your own behaviour. Many times, stress will cause you to move from being that considerate manager to one who is short-tempered and gets flustered easily. Still others will move from being an open and welcome leader to someone who withdraws behind closed doors, signalling others to leave them alone.
More than likely, most of your management colleagues will be experiencing the same sense of stress and anxiety.
Arrange for group leadership meetings so that you can speak about your concerns in a private setting. Focus on solutions rather than challenging the direction you are following. Hammer out some implementation issues and provide support for each other. Seek out private counselling if you recognize your stress levels are no longer healthy.
Managing change from a management perspective is a tough job and requires courage and stamina. Be careful not to rush things, as major change takes anywhere from three to five years to integrate throughout the entire system.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, CMC, CCP, M.Ed,
is president of Legacy Bowes Group.
She is also an author of eight books, a professional speaker, executive coach and workshop leader.
She can be reached at email@example.com and/or barbarabowes.com
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