By Anj Handa
Change is unavoidable. It’s a fact of life, whether in your business or your private life. Different people respond in different ways, often surprising you with their range of (sometimes extreme) emotions.
People’s attitudes to change are similar to the adoption bell curve profiles. Click To Tweet . You’ll encounter innovators, early adopters, early and late majority, and laggards (the latter can really make things challenging).
It can be hard to deal with, emotional and isn’t always welcome, even if the ultimate outcome of the change is both necessary and positive. Change is also often outside your control. It can be a response to political, economic, societal, technological, legislation or environmental factors (see the PESTLE model for strategic management).
The most frequent feedback I hear from my clients’ employees include:
- Knowing how to deal with difficult situations (e.g. slashed budgets, low morale, weak Board leadership)
- Our organisation wants more for less
- What (more) changes are we going to see?
- Why should I bother?
- What’s in it for me?
Managing change effectively requires a strategy and emotional intelligence on the part of managers. The way they communicate will impact the way that change is embedded within your organisation.
They will also need Board level support and guidance on how and when to deliver key messages. Rewarding and celebrating success will keep employees motivated along the way and maintain or repair workplace relationships.
The Change Curve
A tool that I usually introduce to support this process is the change curve, which is often attributed to the model developed by psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross to show the stages of grief.
The curve has been used to measure responses to change. There is a defined order to the stages, which can provide strong clues as to where individuals are at along the curve.
There are a few key stages to change, explained below.
The natural reaction can be for employees to deny that there is a need for change or that it’s not happening. They will say things like “It won’t work here” or “We’ve tried this before.”
When they realise that the change will be taking place, some may resort to anger and bitterness – see my example below.
When it sinks in that this change is now going ahead and that they will need to change along with it, employees will often try to compromise a favourable outcome. Listen out for “What if we do this”, or “Can we try this?” It’s these individuals that will help you ‘sell’ the change to people that are less comfortable with it.
You made it. Yay!
These stages help managers to provide useful and timely interventions. Timing is key – if a second change is introduced at the wrong stage, mutiny can occur. Have you ever come across the scenario where you’ve introduced a couple of organisational changes and it’s a broken office kettle that causes employee rage? That’s what I’m talking about!
A Personal Change Management Example
I’d like to share an example of where I had to manage a significant change scenario myself. It was back in 2009, when the burning of quangos started. At the time, I was overseeing two regional arms of Working Ventures UK, formerly the National Employment Panel.
I had small staff teams, based in Leeds City Region and Sheffield City Region, supporting a network of businesses. In Leeds City Region alone, we had 500 actively involved businesses who supported and co-designed employment and skills programmes funded by DWP.
The first task was to identify the stakeholders and influencers. I have a great Spheres of Influence model for this – as you can see, I like models… These included DWP, our HQ, business network members, employees and agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and Councils, as well as the local Chamber in which we were based.
DWP liked what we did, so offered 18 months’ transition funding IF we could find a new host employer, since our HQ was to be closed down. We were pretty much left to our own fate. My initial ‘back of a fag packet’ notes resulted in the same outcome as the formal feasibility study – and we merged with the Chamber of Commerce.
It’s a winner!
That was a win-win, since I agreed to manage the Chamber’s employment and skills programmes as well as my own, and then to introduce succession planning before leaving to become self-employed at the end of the term.
The main challenge I personally faced was a ‘laggard’ employee, who was a long-term secondee and therefore wasn’t exposed to the eventual redundancy situation that the rest of the team were.
I was well aware that her resistance was based on her attitude to change. Timely updates and regular team meetings (weekly, or more often when required) were crucial to team morale. It definitely wasn’t easy but after the merger, when things had settled, she actually thanked me and admitted that she could have handled the situation better!
People skills are so important when it comes to change management. For me, it comes back to the emotional correctness that I advocate – hearing people out even if you don’t share their point of view. Want support? Or want to know more about the double change curve (doom!)? Then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a call.