Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Our company is undertaking a major reorganization exercise that will change the job responsibilities of most employees. No layoffs are planned, but some people may be rotated and tried in different positions. As a precursor, and to overcome resistance, I want to give employees a presentation on change management. How do I address employees' concerns? How do I identify the various aspects I ought to cover?
—Upheaval, manufacturing, Karachi, Pakistan
Changes of any sort--even positive changes--can send ripples of fear and resistance through your company, so preparing employees for anticipated changes is very wise. As a leader in your organization, keep three key principles in mind as you intervene throughout the change: Show empathy for employees’ concerns.Communicate openly and directly.Involve employees in decision-making.
As change begins, it is important to listen to, and show empathy for, employees’ fears and concerns. It helps to confront, and openly discuss, the organizational changes and why they have occurred. Help to identify continuities that balance losses, but be careful to avoid giving “pep talks” before people are ready for them. William Bridges, author of Transitions and a noted authority on change, defines three stages of adjustment that people generally go through during a major change, such as company reorganizations. The three stages--endings, neutral and beginnings--are illustrated below:
During the “ending” stage, your employees may go through a period of denial, characterized by disbelief and shock. This feeling may evolve from the initial shock into resentment: “It can’t be. How could they do this?” During this stage, employees may fight to preserve the old system, or maneuver to keep what they had. Once it becomes clear that isn’t possible, the person enters the “neutral” stage, in which depression emerges, characterized by a lack of focus, disorientation, withdrawal or self-pity.
It’s important during the neutral stage to acknowledge employee feelings and communicate that these feelings are legitimate. As a leader, your biggest challenge may be acknowledging that these feelings are natural. Encourage people to discuss their feelings during this stage, and listen to them. Communication plays a key role in helping others to recognize that this stage shall pass.
Thankfully, if the transition is handled properly, the “beginnings” stage is just around the corner, where the employee begins to feel included in the change and form an attachment to the new system. Recovery now is on the way, when employees begin to feel committed and demonstrate a general acceptance of the changes: “We’re going to make it. I’ll give it a try.”
Once the employee enters the “beginnings” stage, it helps to develop rituals and marker events so people appreciate the past, as they attach to the new situation.
Be available to discuss realistic career options in the new organizational structure, and work with upper management to offer training in new needed skills. As much as possible, involve affected employees in your decisions about change. Communicate clear goals and a vision of the new situation.
To assess how prepared your employees are for change, answer the following questions. Do they: Know what the change will be?Understand how the change will benefit the organization?Understand how the change will benefit themselves?Recognize some of the potential problems inherent in the change?See key people supporting the change?Have confidence in the people directing the change?Understand that change will not conflict with their personal values or goals?Believe their personal concerns about the change have been heard? Also, have they: Received reassurance about their importance to the organization?Been reassured about their individual abilities?Participated in deciding on or implementing the change?Been given training in new skills and behaviors that will be needed after the change?Experienced prior changes that helped them become successful? —Patsy Svare, The Chatfield Group