An inevitable consequence of organisational change is the need to evaluate roles and positions ultimately leading to some staff experiencing significant change to their role, re-deployment to another division, or redundancy. Some people will jump on board the process, others will be fearful and others will be resistant.
Communicating with people who are struggling to deal with change can be challenging. Giving unwelcome information to someone is uncomfortable. Yet avoiding real conversations and pressing onwards with change without transforming the hearts and minds of your people is at best uncaring and at worst negligent. It will impact on the performance and well-being of your people, and the success of the change process. Given that a 2013 Strategy&/Katzenbach Center survey of global senior leaders on culture and change management, found the success of major change initiatives was only 54%, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement in how change is managed in organisations. While we talk about managing organisational change, it is at the individual level that actual change occurs.
Avoiding real conversations and pressing onwards with change without transforming the hearts and minds of your people is at best uncaring and at worst negligent.
You can’t expect people to trust in the change process (or trust in you) if you don’t take the time to speak directly and honestly with them about what is planned, what they have
opportunity to have input on and what is non-negotiable.
At a basic level what people most want to know is what is the outcome of all this change going to be for me?
I understand that as leaders, even those at executive levels, you may not be the ultimate decision-maker or driver of change. Especially in Government, decisions on organisational structure, roles and staffing numbers can be political decisions or driven by government funded external reviews, creating a milieu of complexity and shifting goal posts.
You may not have all the information or are being drip-fed information that seems to change on a daily basis. Therefore, you are being honest when you tell staff that you don’t have the information. In my experience, you still have a lot more information than your staff. Managers withhold information for two reasons. The first is information is power. The second is that you do not want to be in a position where you send out communications that say x, y, and z is going to happen and then the next day the change management team tells you that further analysis of the situation means a, b and c is now the plan. Therefore, you limit information under the mistaken belief that no information is better than the wrong information.
Standing in front of a staff meeting pretending you are sharing information through bland motherhood statements will create opportunity for distrust to grow and opportunity for rumours to thrive. I remember attending team meeting during a time of major organisational restructure where the Executive Director gave the exact same update for months on end, no doubt feeling satisfied that he was keeping us informed and supported.
“Really not much I can tell you as the situation is changing constantly and I will tell you when I know something.” It doesn’t appear to be changing to us as we don’t see anything being decided … and, we are pretty sure you know something but just aren’t telling us.
“Everyone is really busy”. We all would look around to see who was busy as all projects had come to a halt pending change. Again, this shifted group thinking towards suspicion of what was really going on.
“I can’t confirm what is happening to your role/job until final decisions have been made and signed off by the executive”. Oh ok then, so we won’t stress at all while everyone else seems to be discussing our fate without any input from us’.
Now I am not suggesting any malice or bad intent on his behalf. Rather I am suggesting that under the guise of protecting us from all the behind the scenes complexity and confusion, he was in fact doing the exact opposite. We were more confused.
Employees are all levels are not entitled to know everything and there is good reason to manage the amount and specifics of information made publically available. It is not expected that a lower level employee will have much discretion in determining organisational level decisions. There is a time and place for directive leadership. In that case don’t pretend to be taking a consultative approach. Terms such as ‘consultative approach’ and ‘seeking feedback’ tend to encourage a sense of ownership and participation in the change process. Don’t use them unless you actually mean it.
Some decisions are non-negotiable so it can be tempting not to consider the need for
discussion with affected staff. This however is when it is vital to have 1:1 conversations. The most suitable person to be having these conversations is the mid-level manager. This is an excellent article of the important role of the mid-level manager in change management. http://blog.prosci.com/the-role-of-managers-in-the-3-phases-of-change-management?utm_content=56104063&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin
The common reason for lack of personal communication is “I don’t have time to speak with everyone individually”. Time is simply an excuse. What you don’t have is the courage to have vital conversations.
There is always time for a 1:1 conversation.
Keep your managers fully informed with transparent and up to date information. They are your direct conduit to most of your employees. They are the ones who should be having the 1:1 conversations with their team members so give them the power to do so.
FACILITATING THE PEOPLE SIDE OF ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE
Kim Adams is an experienced organisational performance improvement and program evaluation professional with a distinctive ability to manage change, negotiate partnerships, and communicate sensitively with diverse groups and levels.
She is passionate about connecting leaders with their unique voice so they lead with confidence, influence and success. She combines 15 years in police program evaluation with her qualifications in psychology, management and yoga to provide a unique and pragmatic approach to leadership development.
Kim is the principal of Kim Adams Consulting specialising in Organisational Change, Developing Leaders, Coaching and Program Evaluation.