By Tom Marsicano, CEO of ‘and Change’: a global advisory and change management agency
The structure of a business changes more often than its leaders like to think. Mergers, acquisitions, resignations, new hires, and even the less-than-ideal retrenchment process mean that your team is rarely static. As change management practitioners, we see that significant organisational change often involves some form of staff restructuring. Sometimes it can be downsizing, a trend that has unfortunately peaked in South Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic leading to significant job insecurity. However, other times a team restructure results from something less gloomy – with teams growing as a business expands or units combining in a merger between companies.
Regardless of the circumstances, any development in your team always involves managing resistance to that change, making it an anxious time for even the most prepared leadership. However, there are ways to mitigate resistance and maintain a sense of loyalty, unity and good morale.
Preparation is vital
Before any change, nothing is more important than adequately expressing the nature of the change to your teams and what it will mean for them in the future. It sounds simple, but this is often where many organisations fail. Building up a team of trustworthy change agents who can assist in spreading this information – and the tangible reasoning behind a change – is key. The leadership of a company may need a high-level knowledge of the strategy. However, it’s important to spread that information and provide your agents with the right change management skill sets. Once they’ve had this training, you can always have a change network that can continue managing future business changes.
Leverage your change networks
Once your network is in place, what is important is ensuring you continue to use them to help people prepare for the new normal. In the event of a downscaling, it’s essential to hold onto the people with this institutional knowledge, transfer their skill sets, and train new network members. They’ll be the ones helping people to fully understand their new roles, help identify issues that emerge and help develop a culture of embracing change. There’s a reason why change management is seen as one of the most highly sought after skill sets in local business.
Help people take ownership of the change
People feel less anxious when they’re informed, of course, but when a team has changed, communication needs to be prioritised. For example, if you’ve merged two teams, you’ll have your stalwarts who know the technical environment but now have different working relationships. Meanwhile, your new recruits are amid a massive personal change and having to learn about their new culture and how it impacts their career. Ideally, following a major change, it’s essential to be clear about job descriptions. Make sure people are aware of how their success is now being measured – whether that means an expansion to their role or if they should specialise. It’s here that training and career guidance can help your teams feel their career has been upgraded, with an opportunity to learn new skills.
Focus on the people side of the change
The technical side of the change is also important. If new systems are being implemented (such as upgraded digital tools to help take the load off of a comparatively smaller team), people need the training to use them, of course. However, more importantly, leaders have to focus on the people side of the change. Without empathy in the face of change, you will lose the respect of the people working for you. One of the best counterexamples of this was at an engineering firm in Canada, where after restructuring was announced, they immediately began coaching the people who were leaving—providing counselling to help them cope with their emotions, giving them career guidance and training to help them secure more work, helping them develop their personal brand and even improving their CVs. These small gestures ultimately led to a productivity spike in the last few months before the retrenchments came into effect – and the company’s reputation and culture was preserved.
Identify the pressure points as they arise
Essentially, this is a combination of all the above. Change is ever-present, implying that your change strategies and networks should always be developing. If your teams are still struggling to deal with a change many months after a change has been implemented, it’s a signal to evolve your strategy. By having your change networks focus on people and their concerns, you can address those unpredictable sticking points and help find the solutions that will let your new team feel comfortable, and hopefully, productive. Allow the people you work with to take ownership of their changing work lives, and they’ll feel more secure, and most of all, like a united team.
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