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change management | HR Off-Site

Thriving in Constant Change

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Constant change is a fact of life and a hallmark of a thriving business in most businesses and industries. Many companies and their employees are challenged by their need to keep pace with rapid changes in market conditions, in technology and in consumer preferences. The most successful companies are able to go one step further and actually lead these changes.

Research highlights two important findings about change:

  • Companies who don’t manage change well don’t capture the potential impact of initiatives, meaning that their efforts don’t tend to pay off;    and
  • Strength on any one level of the organization, whether senior executives, middle managers, or the frontline workforce, gives companies a better chance of success. Interestingly, no single level was found to be more critical in that respect than any other.

Change affects business performance. It interrupts our flow and it interferes with our sense of security. So, even when it’s good, change can be painful. Not everyone is negatively affected by change and not all change is bad. But, change acts like an extra heart beat; it creates a blip that can be neutral or downright deadly.

Clearly, one of the best ways to position your business for growth is to work on its capacity to anticipate, manage and lead change. The question is how to go about doing that. Before you start the change process, it useful to understand that almost any change can have a significant impact on a business, and to use effective strategic planning methodology to figure out where you are, what’s important to your business, what must be done by when to achieve priority goals, and who’s accountable.

One important key to dealing with change in your company is to understand that people are hard wired to be either resilient, resistant, or somewhere in between. So, start by building an adaptable workforce through purposeful recruiting. Look for candidates with the following qualities: a strong sense of self, a sense of control, solid coping skills and self- efficacy (the belief in his or her ability to succeed in specific situations).

If your change initiative is beyond that point, knowing where each member of your leadership team lands on the embracing change continuum will help you manage them. In turn, having this awareness will also help them manage their teams. Here are a few other tips:

Talk about the upcoming change with your trusted advisors.  Involving others in the thinking behind the change and in the overall vision allows key players time to come to terms with the potential impacts on the financial, infrastructure and people side of the business.

Identify the champions in your company who will facilitate (or at least enable) the change.  These are usually the employees who are the most adaptable and who have embraced change in the past. They can also be informal leaders who are skilled communicators. Communicate early and often with your champions.

Be available for conversation as concerns arise.  This is important throughout the change process, but especially so in the early phases. Regular conversation helps diffuse fear and makes it easier for your team members to work through challenges and develop solutions.

Know that people prefer to know, even if you don’t know all the answers. In the absence of information, employees may fill in the blanks with speculation and/or their own versions of the truth. This can easily derail an entire work unit. Your employees will cope better with uncertainty if they see that you’re being open and honest and telling them everything you can.

Treat your staff with honesty and respect and you might be surprised which employees use the changing environment to shine. For some, this will be an opportunity to be flexible, to showcase skills that might have not been visible before, and take on greater responsibility. Even a small group of people who exhibit these behaviours can ease the transition process and make it seamless to customers.

Managing Leadership Turnover

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While there are some variations in the translations of the quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus  “nothing endures but change” or “the only constant is change,” one thing is certain: workplace relationships and productivity suffer when changes are clumsily introduced.

Among the most difficult changes for employees to handle is a change in their manager. Whether the change is due to a transfer of duties, promotion or departure from the company, reporting to a new boss is worrisome to most employees. Some may even see it as job-threatening. How your employees deal with this depends to a great extent to how safe they feel in their current role.

Generally, employees whose performance has been assessed and for which feedback has been provided are in the best shape. They know their standing in the company and will use that knowledge to help them if they become insecure. Employees who don’t know, or who are on performance improvement plans are often more insecure. They tend to fret more and their fear may compel them to engage in unproductive behaviour such as speculation or gossip.

Fear of change is natural, but there is a lot that owners and managers can do to help their teams during management transitions:

  1. Let staff know of the change as soon as possible. Provide information about timeframes.
  2. Let staff know what they can expect in the immediate future. Be as open as you can be given the circumstances. Consider holding a live five-minute meeting with local staff and sending out an announcement email confirming the information.
  3. Communicate the anticipated impact of the change on the business, customers and suppliers.
  4. State your expectations that team members will continue to work to their usual high standards during the transition.
  5. Explain how you will go about finding a replacement. If you will be recruiting, let staff know the timeline and any interim arrangements that will be made.
  6. Check in with employees frequently. This is especially important during the first few weeks. Just because you haven’t heard anything, doesn’t mean your employees aren’t worried.
  7. Provide periodic general updates on the status of the recruiting process.
  8. When you’ve made your decision, prepare an announcement to introduce the new manager. Whether he or she is from inside or outside the company, use this communication to provide a brief summary of the new manager’s professional background and anticipated contribution to the company in the new role. Some employers use this communication to share some personal information, such as the names of the new manager’s partner and children. This is optional and if you are considering this, be sure to have the new manager’s full consent to do so.
  9. Conduct a thorough on-boarding. Even if the new manager is transferred from within the company, there will be distinct differences in expectations and responsibilities.
  10. Be sure to set goals to ensure that the manager is adapting well to his or her new role. Consider setting a goal related to getting to know the team and ensuring that your employees receive the attention they deserve.

The early days in any new position can be hectic and potentially overwhelming for the manager. Help both your employees and your new manager succeed with open and frequent communication. No matter what kind of business you’re in, this is an important practice. It encourages employees to share their concerns and ideas and helps keep management and frontline staff on the same side.