Getting your staff on board with changes : Advice for managers

Organisations are constantly changing for two prime reasons – the need to increase revenues/ decrease costs and the need to be more effective. The purpose of transformation is to turn around a present state to a projected higher state.

Any business works around a few key words – organisational development, organisational strategy, organisational change, transformation, stakeholder management and among other factors - psychology and trust because any change will involve and impact on its stakeholders. 

The manager’s task is a heavy one. He will assist in formulating the strategy of change and all its processes. This will include interacting with other organisations, not merely the staff under his purview and he would be expected to communicate changes so that his staff may execute them to expectations. Firstly, the manager himself would need to understand the complex nature of the change and how it would impact his workforce.  

The culture of the organization plays a significant role in successful change and how employees accept change.  Pitfalls and shortcomings are generally hidden by procedures that over time become part of the culture. In some cultures, managers could be falsely urgent, constantly consumed by activity, constantly fire fighting. Otherwise, managers could feel complacent that the existing culture is fine, and staff will automatically adapt to change. Some styles focus more on management than leadership and some erect more boundaries than avenues of opening. The staff is expected to accept changes go along with these management patterns whether they are inspired or not. The goals may not be clear to them. They have no clue on the priorities. Quite often, leaders do not realize that the better people can envisage the reality of the change, the more prepared they would be to focus on whatever specific initiatives expected of them. 

With all this time, cost and energy being spent, the question is whether the change procedure would be successful. Many have known to fail. Is there a foolproof system that guarantees success once all the technical aspects of change have been put into place?  If so, what is it?

Here’s what respected researchers have found when it comes to successful organizational transformation and getting the staff on board with enthusiasm.

It has been found that change does not happen fast -  rather it takes a while to manifest.

Celebrating small wins along the way sustain the momentum. The human being is an impatient creature and staff might unrealistically expect to see immediate change.  Seeing sharing and celebrating smaller wins gives a sense of immediacy rather than expecting staff to wait for the grand change by which time the excitement of change may have subsided and old patterns reverted to.

There will be a transition period where the changes are being introduced, understood and tried out.  Starting from the manager himself, staff on board would have to let go of existing work and behavior patterns as well as attitudes, not only to achieve the desired outcome but to sustain it. How? Researchers submit that a systematic approach should include both the organization and the individual.  Failed change initiatives had often forgotten the individual. 

Getting staff on board might involve some resistance in several forms such as low emotional commitment to change or covert actions towards the organisation either by an individual or a unit. Rather than seeing it as a negative force, the manager could work to convert it to agreement.  How? Involving the staff in change has been known to mitigate resistance. It has been found that when staff have a clear description of the change, the rationale and results of the transformation, they will adapt to changes with little resistance. 

Researchers recommend that managers develop a system of feedback that focuses on continued involvement in whatever way, small or big.  In a technology-based change, if the organisation focuses only on the right hardware/software and forget the people who would be using the new technologies, they would be starting wrong since any change is a tool to be used by the organization’s people. 

Here are some examples of how a few top companies got their staff on board with changes that managers could use:

Marissa Mayer’s strategies as CEO of Yahoo included transitions that made vast improvements in Yahoo’s business from practically all angles, not just the profit component. Ms. Mayer placed great emphasis on managing talent in the company.  One of her people strategies on changing the way staff viewed change was to encourage employees to test products. Ms. Mayer understood that employees should feel valued. Imagine employees returning to your company because the workplace standing had become greatly enhanced!

When the California State University implemented a major IT systems change which involved 23 other satellite campuses and thousands of employees – not just staff but students who had to undergo change in the way they were doing things, they employed a few very successful strategies. One was redefining the role of the employee facing change explaining clearly who could use what system and how much changes they could make in their designated area.  The employee understood clearly their new responsibilities. There were frequent communication and clarifications. Confusion was minimised as all staff was on the same page.

Changes in the workplace can involve layoffs. This is a sensitive area that can impact on the psychology of others. When British Airways restructured its entire organization a while back, they realised the operation had been vesting valuable resources that ate into profits. It was decided to reduce the workforce. What the chairperson did was to announce layoffs well in advance giving reasons for the restructuring. Staff had time to prepare themselves for upcoming change, including finding alternative employment. The transparency resulted in very little staff backlash and negative publicity. 

The bottom line in facilitating successful organizational change and the staff mindset surfaces as communication, communication, and more communication!

Created: August 26th 2016


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