Monday 16 September 2019

Gina London: 'Getting staff onside is key to managing change well'

'The better you understand what employees go through during a change, the better you can prepare to offset it.' Stock image
'The better you understand what employees go through during a change, the better you can prepare to offset it.' Stock image

Gina London

In addition to the well-worn tropes of death and taxes, another thing we can be certain of in this world is... change.

These days it is occurring at break-neck speed in our technology-driven businesses. But the ways in which management can help employees understand, prepare and adjust to change are still often stuck in the slow lane - or not applied at all.

I recall years ago, when I was a correspondent at CNN, management spent millions of dollars in an effort to update and improve the equipment we reporters, producers and tech directors used to transform raw video into news packages ready for air.

It was a change which seemed wise on the face of it. The new equipment was supposed to accelerate and simplify the editing process. The only trouble was no one had thought to consult the very people who would be actually using the equipment: the editors themselves.

After weeks of frustration, with packages taking more - not less - time to be prepared, management was forced to spend additional money to overhaul the newly-configured editing bays, this time in consultation with the employees who would be using it.

Fast forward to this week. I travelled to Sweden to work with a well-known company as it prepared to roll out a new software system to assist in assessing and promoting employees.

In advance of the launch, senior management invited each department leader to attend a full-day event to explore the philosophy behind the new system, encourage feedback and input and - get this - have some fun. Breakfast was provided and a cool food truck pulled up outside.

Even more importantly, the day was filled with plenty of games and activities designed to put the new performance assessment system to the leadership communications test. Complete with prizes. It was a day filled with conversation, collaboration and camaraderie.

To be clear, these managers were invited to freely discuss and understand the philosophies behind the change, not even to "train" on how to use the new system, which is planned for later. The company's communications process for this change is long-range and very incremental. That's just the way it should be.

The better you understand what employees go through during a change, the better you can prepare to offset it. In the 1960s, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychologist outlined the famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She applied similar stages to employees' reactions to business change. A lot of companies use these as guidelines for change communications preparations today.

But I prefer the more recent work of Harvard's John Kotter who, with his eight-step model of change, offers a more proactive and less emotionally reactive approach to accommodating business change. Let's examine each step:

1 Create Urgency

Long before any change is announced, it is important to get input from employees to bolster the idea change is needed - understanding the "why" and "when" long before the "how".

2 Form Powerful Coalitions

Conducting surveys to create the necessary urgency will also help identify your change champions. Seek supportive stakeholders from a variety of places - managers, key employees, customers, vendors.

3 Develop a Vision and Strategy

Every change must be conducted like a campaign. With stakeholders' help, you must chart time-lines, checkpoints and milestones to encourage successful implementation.

4 Communicate the Vision

The vision should be clear, believable, attainable and enthusiastic. If you can't get excited about it, you can't expect employees to.

5 Remove Obstacles

Don't remove them with a steamroller. Obstacles are removed when you involve employees at every step, listen to their concerns and answer honestly.

6 Create Short-term Wins

Remember those milestones you crafted? These are opportunities to boost morale along the way. My client company's decision to dedicate a day to celebrating the "philosophy" for their new performance software was a great example of creating a short-term win.

7 Consolidate Gains

Promoting each milestone win as part of a collective adds momentum to your overall change support. That's the power behind the gains consolidation idea.

8 Anchor Change

Institutionalisation of the change only occurs after a sustained period of time. Ensure your change champions continue to be unified and extend their support by creating a recognition programme or ceremony aimed at rewarding around your planned change.

I acknowledge this process takes dedication and is quite time-consuming, but the high level of involvement will help you reach change success like my client company - and not fall into change overhaul like my former employer.

Sunday Indo Business

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