I believe it’s important for leaders to collaborate with all employees during times of organizational change. It increases your effectiveness as a leader, creates trust, helps your employees feel valued, reduces resistance, creates buy-in and positively impacts your bottom line. The various levels of management are normally included in conversations about organizational change, so this chapter focuses on lower-level employees who are many times forgotten.
Types of Organizational Change
Some examples of organizational change you may experience are:
• Leadership transition
• A rapidly growing or changing business
• Merger or acquisition
• New organizational initiatives
The Impact of Change on Employees
When an organization is going through change, employees are placed under new stresses and become less productive (see graph). Also, it is important to remember that employees going through multiple changes at one time (including personal changes) will be under even greater stress.
Well-managed change keeps decreased productivity to a minimum and shortens its duration.
"It is important to remember that employees going through multiple changes at one time (including personal changes) will be under even greater stress."
Problems in the Lower Levels of Organizations
In Seeing Systems, Barry Oshry says the following about “bottoms,” the employees in the lower levels of an organization:
• Bottoms feel oppressed in the system.
• Others (higher-ups) make decisions that affect their lives in major and minor ways. Reorganizations happen to them; initiatives come and go; plants are closed; workforces are reduced.
• Bottoms feel unseen and uncared for. They see things that are wrong with their situation and with the organization that higher-ups ought to be fixing, but aren’t fixing.
• Bottoms feel isolated in the system. They don’t have the big picture. There is no vision they can commit to and they don’t see how their work fits into the whole.
During times of organizational change, input from lower levels of the organization is often missing, yet there is critical information available to leaders from this group of people - information that can help make the change a lasting success.
Who Can Help You Manage the Change Effectively?
So how can you manage change in your organization effectively and alleviate the bottom issues as described above? I recommend hiring an experienced external consultant who is knowledgeable about systems and change theory to work with you and your employees collaboratively. An external consultant is not a part of your organization’s system and can, therefore, see the dynamics and issues in it more clearly than people who are part of the system. In addition, an external consultant is not constrained by the culture and may be able to speak more freely during various phases of the project since the consultant is not an employee of those to whom he or she reports during the project. Also, employees often speak more openly with an outside person who is not a part of the organization’s system.
What if your organization is hierarchical and not used to collaborating with employees during times of change? A consultant will help you work within the cultural parameters of your organization and will also suggest new ways to work within your organization to optimize effectiveness.
Effective Change Management
The chart, from Organization Development and Change by Cummings and Worley, is one of my favorite models for managing change.
A consultant can work with you to manage each phase of the model.
There are several points during the above change process where input and interaction with employees at lower levels is important with “motivating change” being the most critical. During this phase, it is important to create change readiness and to work to overcome any resistance to change.
EFFECTIVE CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Understanding Need for Change
Creating Readiness for Change
Overcoming Resistance to Change
Creating a Vision
Describing a Desired Future State
Developing Political Support
Assessing Change Agent Power
Identifying Key Stakeholders
Managing the Transition
Providing Resources for Change
Support System for Change Agents
Developing New Competencies and Skills
Reinforcing New Behaviors
Employees generally need to be given a compelling reason to support change. They need to understand the pressures the organization is facing and why change is necessary. Often, there must be pain in the system in order to create motivation for change.
Employees also need to understand the new vision, what exactly will take place during the change and other pertinent information about the change, which lets them know specifically what is changing and the impact it will have on their lives. Giving this information reduces rumors that create confusion and anxiety and decrease performance.
One of the most effective ways to overcome employee resistance is to collaborate with them and gather data from them. The data collected is extremely helpful as you plan and implement change. It will also bring to the surface problems and barriers to implementing the change successfully.
The Collaborative Process
During this collaborative process, the consultant gathers the data from employees in person, by phone or via computer survey. The questions are created jointly by the leader and consultant and are based on the specific change the leaders are planning, as well as any known issues to date. Even the simplest questions can surface key information about resistance to change and issues that may impede a successful implementation.
Next, the consultant analyzes the data and finds the themes within it.
The themes are reported back to the leadership and those who completed the survey at a feedback meeting. At this meeting, the consultant facilitates a discussion around the themes, then the group determines problems, gaps and opportunities, prioritizes them and creates a list of recommendations for leadership to take forward as they plan and implement the change. This information can then be incorporated into the “activity planning” portion of the “managing the transition” phase.
The feedback meeting is also an opportunity to discuss the organization’s new vision from the “creating a vision” phase. During this time, employees learn more about how their work fits into the new vision, why the changes are necessary and how the changes will impact their lives. It’s an opportunity for a robust discussion.
Sometimes, if the organization is large, there will need to be a series of feedback meetings. In this case, a combined list of recommendations is given to the leadership team to use as they plan and implement activities during the change. Often, a core group of employees is assigned to work on a task force that helps plan and implement the change.
As a result of this collaborative process, employee questions, ideas and needs will be heard and taken into consideration during the planning and implementation of change. They will be involved in decisions that affect their lives, will feel that leaders have seen and cared for them and will have the big picture, as Barry Oshry recommends in Seeing Systems.
This process also creates a real commitment to the change, since employees will have been involved in creating it. Employees begin buying into the change in advance, which keeps decreased productivity to a minimum and shortens its duration.
Stories of Change
I have seen the successful engagement of lower-level employees during times of change. I have also seen a lack of engagement from these employees and the problems that ensued. The following examples are simple and illustrate the issues discussed in this chapter.
Many years ago, I worked with a new leader of a division of a corporation. He was interested in gathering data from employees as he began his tenure. We asked a few simple questions in the interviews and the data that came from it was very helpful for that new leader. The data was positive and included information on employee concerns, what they needed and how to engage them. But, when I discussed the themes of the data with him, he changed his mind; he decided not to finish the collaborative process. Over the next few years, this leader had issues engaging and motivating his people. He focused solely on numbers and people in upper management, disregarding the data we gathered. The result was apathy in the organization and, in turn, decreased productivity from the people he was leading.
I recently worked with a large association in the midst of rebranding and changing their name. They knew of some resistance to the change and wanted to be sure they were making the right decision. We created a process in which we surveyed every level of the organization and all association members. The data showed us where there were pockets of concern and resistance to the change. We disseminated the results of the survey to all who participated and then conducted several feedback meetings. In the end, the resistance dissipated. I find that using this process—caring and listening to people’s ideas and concerns— often decreases resistance to change dramatically. This particular change was very successful. Leadership used the questions and issues from the survey data as they created their communications strategy for the transition. The survey data was useful in many ways as they transitioned to the new name and brand.
During times of organizational change, it is important to collaborate with all levels of the organization. The lower levels of the organization are frequently omitted from the planning phases of change. If you include all levels in the planning, you will gather valuable data that will help you create buy-in, reduce resistance, create trust and increase your organization’s effectiveness.
About the Author:
Karen is President of Dahlem Consulting, a business that partners with organizations to manage organizational change. She also works with individuals to manage personal change. For more information or to contact Karen, please visit her website at www.dahlemconsulting. com. You can also reach her by phone at 502-836-7403 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.