We are certainly experiencing dramatic change in our country at present following the Brexit vote and it’s interesting to watch how people are reacting and responding to it. The country's leadership is in disarray and no-one is clearly showing the way ahead so speculation is rife and emotions are running high. All this is on a grand scale and on the world stage, so let’s learn some lessons in change management as we observe the process. It’s always better to learn from other people’s mistakes if we can!
How can we take our own organisations through change in a way that will bring positive outcomes and minimise the negative outcomes for all concerned?
As managers or directors our focus of concern will be the business as a whole and our instinct to give people lots of information about the future, but we should always think about what we would be concerned about ourselves if we heard that change is coming.
Putting ourselves in other peoples’ shoes will go a long way towards ensuring that we do the right thing. We’d probably be wondering – how will this affect me – my job, my future etc.? As soon as we hear news of change, our minds start going through what it will mean to us. That means that we probably stop listening to whoever is presenting all the facts and figures because we’re too busy worrying about our own future.
The PIE recipe is a very helpful model for leading your people through change: Participation, Information and Enthusiasm.
The more involved we are in something, the more committed to it we are. Employees may not be able to make decisions about the actual change, but should be as involved and empowered as possible in how the change is rolled out in their area. Problem-solve as a team - it's a great way to think through the implications of the change and what needs to be done to make sure that everything continues to run smoothly.
Give people as much information about how the change will affect their jobs and their future as soon as you possibly can – not as an add-on. Even if people don’t ‘need to know’ they want to know what’s happening and if they don’t have the correct information, the old rumour mill will start.
This can be more damaging than you might think – I know of two companies who had to close down because they didn’t quash rumours of impending redundancies. Their highly skilled workers left for more secure employment and neither company was able to remain viable without the skills they needed. All that was needed was a little openness and information about what was happening behind the scenes.
A manager can make or break the way people cope with change. If the leader is enthusiastic and positive, then everyone else is much more likely to follow. If the leader is complaining and negative, then everyone else is likely to follow.
Explain the vision, expect your people to go through what’s known as the ‘transition curve’ – from the lows of fear ("how will this affect me?"), feeling threat, guilt and depression, and up again through gradual acceptance and moving forward ("this can work and be good") if it’s managed well. Help them to deal with the low times by leading the way clearly. If you’re not sure about the change yourself, then adjust your attitude before you talk to your staff about it.
It’s not going to be easy, but concentrating on the people as well as the process will reap many benefits and make the change much more likely to be successful.