Change Management in Changing Times

By Robert Half on February 8, 2021 at 8:00am

Significant change, whether it’s swift or gradual, planned or unplanned, can be disorienting for workers if it’s not managed effectively. So, it’s critical for business leaders responsible for managing change to avoid any disconnects with staff when an organization is going through a period of disruption and transition. Uncertainty can easily spawn rumors, frustration, resentment, stress and fear.

Navigating dramatic changes in your organization and industry is challenging, especially from a human resources perspective. But there are many things you can do as a manager, starting now, to guide your team through change successfully. Here’s a quick look at six basic change management tips that can help you along the journey:

1. Communicate often (and strategically)

Share as much information with your employees as you think is appropriate. How much will depend not only on the situation but also your team’s unique needs. You don’t want to leave your team in the dark, even if you only have limited details about what the change, anticipated or not, might mean for the organization.

You also want to avoid doing the opposite: overwhelming your employees with unnecessary details. So, as a first step to deciding exactly what to share, ask yourself: Which details are absolutely essential for my team to understand, and what additional information might be important for them to hear as well?

Also, stick to the facts when sharing information as part of change management — don’t speculate about what might happen next. Offering theories and setting unrealistic goals or timelines can undermine efforts to manage change in an organization effectively. So, too, can downplaying the impact of the change. By not being upfront about the serious nature of a change event — even if you’re just trying to be optimistic — you risk eroding your employees’ trust and confidence in your leadership during a critical time.

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2. Acknowledge employees’ feelings when managing change

Again, without sugarcoating, highlight any short- or long-term benefits employees might experience because of the change. Not all change is bad, of course, even if it upends the status quo in your business.

However, if it’s hard to find a silver lining in a change event, simply emphasize – and show – that you’re all in this together. You can help your employees cope with change by reminding them that you are experiencing the change, too, and share many of the same concerns.

Don’t assume you know exactly what your workers are feeling, though. When rolling out changes or instituting new policies and processes in response to a disruptive change event, take your employees’ emotions into account. Fear and uncertainty can lead to low morale, which can undermine productivity and retention — as well as a willingness to adapt to the change.

Also, be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your staff throughout the change period. Make yourself available for questions and share any pertinent updates with employees as quickly as possible. If your employees are working remotely, make a point to touch base with them frequently by phone or video chat, both individually and as a team.

3. Invite employees to help solve problems

Once you’ve alerted your employees to the change, invite their input on how best to respond to it — and ask them to communicate their needs. Your employees are likely resilient, and their ideas and perspectives on how to adapt and even thrive in the face of change can be invaluable.

For example, remote work arrangements have been a necessity for many businesses during the pandemic, and now, some firms are looking to make these arrangements permanent for some or all of their workforce. If your organization is among them, be sure to ask your team what they need to succeed. Which tools and processes do they want to keep using (or replace) so they can communicate and collaborate effectively, keep pushing work forward, and ensure business needs are met?

Also, aim to include your team members in initiatives designed to help the business transform or operate more optimally. The adoption of a new business system is an example of this type of change, which can be gradual but also significantly disruptive. Try to involve employees in the change process by giving them assignments that contribute to the end goal and can help the whole organization adapt to what’s new.

By letting your employees share ownership and responsibility for change, they will feel more in control. More than that, including them in problem solving makes them feel valued and critical to the company’s future success.

4. Follow through on plans — but be flexible

Tenacity is key to adapting to change. Without commitment and determination, your team won’t get far in shifting to the “new normal” you are asking them to embrace.

Remain firm in your goals and ensure changes are implemented properly. If parts of the plan you’ve outlined are ignored or left unfinished, it implies those elements aren’t necessary, and employees will be less inclined to take them seriously and help make them a reality.

Given the above advice, the second part of this change management tip may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to keep in focus: While working to follow through on plans, you also need to remain flexible.

Be ready to alter your strategies, if necessary, to get past bumps in the road. Change is a process. And, to manage change effectively, you need to be prepared to take detours at times so that ultimately, your team can stay on course and reach the intended destination.

5. Bring in resources to help drive change

Depending on the type of change your organization needs to implement or navigate, you may also need to engage consulting resources to help support your core team and propel certain projects forward. A staffing strategy that includes consultants gives your business the flexibility to staff up and down with on- or off-site workers as business priorities and conditions evolve during and after a major change.

For strategic change initiatives or other significant events that require specialized skills, you may want to lean on consulting and managed services arrangements that you can customize to suit your specific needs. These teams can assist with a wide range of complex projects, from new technology implementations to post-merger integrations.

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6. Celebrate successes and keep looking forward

Successful change hinges largely on teamwork. So, be quick to celebrate your team’s successes throughout the change process, and reward employees who go above and beyond to help their colleagues “keep calm and carry on” in times of disruption and uncertainty.

And once your business has implemented a planned change — or adapted to an unplanned one — don’t stop managing change. In fact, the post-change environment may mean opening a whole new chapter of communication with your employees.

The change may have altered your organizational culture in some way, for instance, so you will need to communicate the new vision. You also might need to discuss training options, including upskilling opportunities, to help ensure your employees can succeed in the post-change work environment.

When you need to manage change in an organization, communication is a critical first step to giving your employees knowledge that can bring them comfort and instill confidence. Communication is also an essential tool through every step of the change management journey — from gauging employees’ feelings to acknowledging staff members’ contributions in achieving positive outcomes.

Together, the six change management tips presented here can help you take a proactive, thoughtful and strategic approach in helping your employees successfully navigate through challenging transitions.

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