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Managing organisational change | How to keep people happy

Written on 28 February 2022

In the direst of circumstances, humanity’s true capacity for adaptation and perseverance can be realised. Where the business world is concerned, this defined the pandemic in a nutshell.

Even now as COVID-19 continues to wane, the pace and vigour of change within the workplace has hardly ceased. In fact, the disruption caused by the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of many industries, and this may continue for years to come.

But with the ensuing resignation crisis, combined with the often profound effect that organisational change can have on a workforce, businesses enacting change now face a critical period and must approach shake-ups carefully to minimise further disruption.

Whether restructuring your workforce, amending people’s terms and conditions, or introducing new processes and practices, business leaders must equip themselves to manage change in an equitable and people-centric manner, ensuring that employees remain content and engaged throughout the process.

Here are three top tips for keeping your team together through periods of transition.

1. Have a clear communication plan

Rarely is change in itself received badly by a workforce – rather, it’s the process that tends to be met with discontent. As is often the case, communication is key here.

At its simplest, this can come down to merely ensuring that employees are kept abreast of announcements, developments, and the overall vision and rationale for the change. Whilst simply informing, this can also serve to create a sense of urgency and necessity around the change.

Larger organisations in particular may find that creating a formal communication plan is the most effective approach. This should contain an array of formats such as company-wide emails, one-to-ones between employees and line managers, surveys and focus groups, all adhering to a precise timeline.

Not only will this ensure the consistent and thorough communication of key information, but it will enable the organisation to monitor and assess the workforce’s reaction and sentiments towards the change. Overall, this will be key in moving towards achieving buy-in from employees.

With the workforce being arguably any business’ most valuable stakeholder, the importance of getting this right cannot be overstated. If genuine acceptance and commitment to the company’s vision is attained, greater productivity and profitability will naturally follow suit.

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2. Respond to resistance (rather than ignore it)

No matter how successfully change management is communicated and executed, a degree of pushback is always to be expected. The organisation’s response to this should be considered an extension of its communication strategy. 

Perhaps the most obvious starting point is not to ignore the problem. While resistance can be brushed off as an unfortunate inevitability and by-product of any organisational change process, it can ultimately poison its success.

Resistance is also much easier to counter when it’s identified early. With that in mind, leaders must learn to spot early signs of resistance – such as disengagement, dips in performance and the spread of rumours – and address them directly, creating an open dialogue with the individual to air and appease any lingering concerns.

The most critical aspect of this, as with anything, is establishing the reasons for the resistance in order to take fast and effective action. 

For instance, a lack of awareness as to why the change is being made can be addressed by bolstering communication efforts, whilst a lack of involvement in the change process can be remedied by taking a more workforce-centric approach.

3. Ensure leaders champion the change

It’s important to keep in mind that those responsible for designing and enacting organisational change are not necessarily the ones to keep the workforce informed and happy. In this regard, people managers will act as a critical resource.

In fact, a recent survey cited “active and visible” leadership as the number one characteristic of successful organisational change. This serves as a reminder that people leaders must be educated on the role they can play in change processes.

The survey data also identified five key roles of people managers during organisational change: communicator, liaison, advocate, resistance manager, and coach.

Most importantly, people leaders act as the voices and enforcers of change at the employee level. They distil complex information and communicate it to their teams, they ensure the involvement of employees when it comes to enacting the change, and they are ultimately responsible for the achievement of change goals throughout the process.

But as with all matters involving leadership, this begins at the top of the organisation. People managers must therefore be equipped, through a range of training and motivation initiatives, to successfully guide and support their teams through the change process. 

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