Guiding Employees through Change
In This Essay
■ Communicating with employees
■ Building support and commitment
■ Managing resistive employees
■ Challenges in guiding and managing people
People are naturally somewhat hesitant to change, and extra efforts may be required to remove their resistance. People in a company may resist change due to reasons such as loss of control of the situation, fear of an uncertain future, change in roles and reporting, varied tasks, new leadership, or fear of losing their jobs (Kanter, 2012). The resistance is not necessarily to the change itself but to the change process. Almost 70% of change initiatives fail, mostly due to the inability of managers to lead a smooth transition (Kotter, 2008). By understanding the feelings of people affected by the change, addressing their concerns, and creating an environment in which they can share their feelings and concerns about changes, companies can help employees replace their fears with positive feelings toward change (Institute for Innovation and Improvement, n.d.).
People are the instruments of change within companies, so management must focus on employees during the change process. People react differently to change because their perspectives differ and changes affect them in singular ways, so managers must understand the employees' attitudes towards the change. It is hard to implement individuals' Page 230 | Top of Articleinputs in a large corporation with thousands of employees, so managers should establish a systematic mechanism of disseminating information related to change and receiving feedback. Making people aware of the changes ahead of time and continuing to communicate at each stage of the change process will help people cope with the changes smoothly. Inviting feedback from company members, listening to their concerns, and making necessary changes helps the management to build commitment and gain support from its employees (Hosking, 2009).
During organizational change, managers are looked for guidance as employees experience the uncertainty of whether they should be reluctant to leave familiarity or ready to adapt to changes. Managing change requires a strong commitment, clear vision, effective leadership, and excellent people and managerial skills. For successful change management, companies need leadership with competencies to lead the change process effectively from beginning to end and the ability to motivate and persuade people toward change by communicating a strategic vision and the competitive advantage of planned changes. Change must start from the top organizational level, and leaders should create an environment in which people can freely discuss their opinions, concerns, and beliefs and validate those against planned changes (Kavanagh & Ashkanasy, 2006).
Organizational change is a continuous process, so companies must proactively monitor the changes in their environment and adjust accordingly. However, unless employees actively participate in the change process, it will not be successful. Therefore, management must adopt a policy of motivation toward the change process. By providing effective leadership and strategic counseling, leaders can encourage people to let go of their preconceived notions and take a fresh look at their company. The more that management is able to engage employees and others in the change conversation, the more open they will be to the change process and the more willing they will be to align their behaviors accordingly (Schroeder-Saulnier, 2009). Harvard University professor John Kotter recommends a systematic follow-up consisting of eight steps (creating a sense of urgency, building a powerful change team, defining a change vision, effectively communicating the vision, empowering people and removing resistance, creating short-term wins and making continuous improvements, and building momentum) to make powerful and sustainable changes in a company (Kotter, 1995).
Communicating with Employees
Change makes people uncomfortable, and adaptation to change is not an easy task, because it involves changing both behaviors and culture. Developing positive thinking is the first step in overcoming the uneasiness created by change. Unless people have knowledge of the changes and how they will be affected by those changes, full participation in the change process is almost impossible. Management must communicate relevant information openly and honestly to employees at the beginning of a change project to answer any concerns they have and should continue reinforcing that information until the change is completed and evaluated. Companies can use various forms of communication methods such as newsletters, e-mail, press releases, intranet, video, person-to-person interactions, or in small group discussions to disseminate the message. The method depends upon the size of the company, the scope of change, and its severity (Stark, 2010). However, whatever the method used, the message should be simple and easy to understand, be based on common sense, and should outline the affected areas and the support system available for those affected (Fisher, 2012).
Another important aspect of effective communication lies in readying people for the change. Companies must provide the right tools for people and make necessary improvements and adjustments in company systems and processes in order to tailor them to the planned changes. At the same time, they need to mitigate resistive factors. The continuous and integrated approach of change readiness requires the coordinated participation of everyone in the company, not just a few change agents or change leaders. As a result, it is critical that the whole company be effectively engaged in the change. This need makes communication, which starts at the top and filters down to each level, a critical component of the process. As a result, most employees will first hear the change message from their boss, be able to ask questions, and understand the message well enough that they can communicate it to their team members and answer their questions. Finally, a feedback process should be in place to make sure that the communication process is meeting its objectives (Musselwhite & Plouffe, 2011).
By effectively communicating during organizational change, managers can to some extent prevent or reduce the level of resistance. This low resistivity will eliminate the need for companies to devote a large amount of time and resources to change efforts, and those efforts most likely will be highly effective. Management must focus on changing the behaviors of its employees because they are the ones who carry out company activities Page 232 | Top of Articleand who can contribute to a successful outcome. Therefore, the success of the change program lies in the ability of management to change the individual behaviors in a company. By strategically communicating the importance of the change process and positive outcomes, companies will be able to overcome negativity related to the changes (Elving, 2005).
However, companies should know the resistive factors, including why people are resisting changes, and address those issues. Generally, people personalize the changes and view them only in regard to how they will negatively affect employees. Management must be able to change this perspective so that instead of thinking only of how they will be affected by changes, employees will visualize themselves as a significant element of a large system and develop positive thinking to make changes that will improve the company as a whole.
Building Support and Commitment
Without the full support and commitment from employees, successful change is impossible. By constantly communicating and reinforcing the changes, company leaders can encourage company-wide participation from members. This is only possible when leaders are supportive and committed and have the ability to engage in optimal resource allocation while guiding employees through changes. Change creates uncertainty in people. This often leads to physical and emotional stress, which may temporarily reduce organizational efficiency. Acceptance of change takes time, so management must provide the support necessary to guide employees throughout the change process.
The most important aspect while guiding and directing people during change is assuring them of the need for change. Unless people believe that changes are necessary, they will not be ready for them nor participate in the change process. Management should clearly indicate the reasons for changes, the benefits to the people and company, what will be changed (company, people, processes), how changes will be made, and what the nature of the changes will be. People should know how they will be affected by the changes and the dimension of impact. With detailed information about the change, people develop their own perspectives on the change programs. It is the responsibility of leaders or management to drive people to pursue the company goal and provide credibility to the changes so that people will believe that changes are required for better performance and are ready for them.
Management must be able to identify the risks posed by specific employees that may be detrimental to the success of a company, and they must be able to apply appropriate mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of failure of change and business failure. By addressing specific issues related to their employees and helping those employees cope with changes, companies can increase their credibility. Employees may be required to learn new skills, take on a new role, develop new relationships, or report to a new authority during changes, and they may require training or mentoring. Cooperation, guidance, and a pleasant working environment are necessary to reduce stress while implementing changes. When people realize that management is working on their behalf, their attitudes start changing and they demonstrate commitment to the changes. Reassuring people that assistance from management is available when needed is one of the best ways to build commitment and lessen the chances that employees will revert to the status quo (Johnson, 2009).
The challenges of reconciling diverse perspectives on change can be managed by a strong leadership team capable of executing the right strategies and using the right tools. Based on the resistance demonstrated by employees, leaders may need to acquire different skills to cope with those issues. Leaders should understand the different cultures and perspectives of employees. Building personal relationships with employees can help managers to understand the organizational issues as well as the personal issues that may be hindering the successful acceptance of change (Trignano, 2010).
Managing Resistive Employees
People react to changes with some kind of resistance because they do not understand how the changes will be implemented or how they will be affected by those changes. The level of resistance can range from somewhat hesitant to highly resistive depending on the individual. A small level of resistance to change is normal because people need to change their perceptions, thinking, and ways of working to accommodate the initiated changes. To effectively manage a high level of resistance, businesses should focus on individual behaviors and implement strategic planning. Before implementing specific action plans, they must identify the root causes of resistance to changes and analyze existing policies, available resources, tools, and techniques (Baker, 1989).
Some people may need more pressure, guidance, and counseling in order to accept changes. Managers must anticipate and address situations in which an employee's negative behavior impacts the whole team or department. The goal in these situations should be to identify the root cause of the behavior. By engaging in a thorough discussion with employees, managers can gather feedback that can aid them in shifting the whole change process. Asking relevant questions, listening to employee concerns, and identifying what kind of changes employees are looking for will provide managers with a better idea of what their employees need and how they can be managed more effectively (Maltz, 2008).
Employee resistance is not only a barrier to planned changes but also to innovative ideas. Employee resistance may lead to the reduction of a business's competitiveness and ability to achieve desired goals by delaying the change process or successful innovation (Bora, 2010). On the other hand, a high resistance to change will raise a question about the ability of management to effectively implement change programs that require strong positive participation from company members. Instead of moving forward, the changes made at individual levels without support from company members may revert back to the status quo. Employees conduct a risk–return tradeoff of change management to analyze the expected returns of accepting changes, as well as the risks of doing so. Change can be risky, so people should be assured of positive outcomes through the changes in order to alienate the negative feelings (Schuler, 2003).
Another resistive factor is individual culture, which dominates the whole organizational culture. During organizational change, managers should consider how the changes will impact corporate culture and the ways individuals will cope with the new culture. Sometimes, to make the change more effective, companies are required to make adjustments in their corporate culture, but organizational changes that conflict with the dominant established values of a company or its members are risky, and people require a high level of guidance and direction (Austin & Claassen, 2008) and high level of cultural intelligence in order to deal with the changes. Organizational culture and organizational changes must go together, so it is necessary to understand the type of culture present in a company in order to formulate the strategies aimed at the implementation of the changes. Successful management of both individual and organizational cultures will help to reduce the resistance in the company while making organizational changes.
Challenges in Guiding and Managing People
Companies are facing challenges every day and are changing themselves to cope with the challenges (both outside and inside the company) that go along with that transformation. Understanding people behaviors is a daunting task that involves the study of individuals' behaviors, perspectives, values, and beliefs. The change process is difficult for both large and small companies. For multinational companies the process is made more cumbersome by considerations of national culture. People behave differently in different change scenarios, and understanding their perspectives and developing specific strategies to cope with those requires a commitment of time and resources.
During periods of uncertainty and change, people look to their leaders for direction. Leaders should have the ability to mold differing perspectives into a single, cohesive theme; take charge of change efforts; learn new skills, tools, and techniques; and use visionary ideas to lead (Armstrong, 2008). Leaders should have empathy and incorporate personal and family considerations while implementing organizational changes. It is difficult to find the visionary people who can lead change initiatives, because it requires both people skills and an analytical mindset. The successful management and guidance of people depends upon the chemistry of organizational culture, individuals' culture, and leaders' personal cultures.
Personality clashes may negatively affect the guidance process. Some people may not respond well to corporate leaders, and others may dislike a specific leader for personal reasons or even no reason at all. Conflicts are bound to happen when personalities are not aligning (CIPD, 2008). People must be made ready for the changes by being informed about the changes and how those changes will impact the company as well as individuals. Similarly, removing obstacles such as resistance to change is another challenge, as some people are not easily changed and a specific intervention may be required based on the circumstance.
Fearing its aging workforce (an average age of 47 in 2017) would be less productive in the coming years, BMW developed an innovative bottom-up approach to improve productivity in 2007 (Loch, Sting, Bauer, & Mauermann, 2010). The company launched a pilot project in a plant to redesign the company to meet the challenges of the demographics shift. It developed various productivity improving changes such as managing health care, enhancing workers' skills and the workplace environment, job rotation, redesign of tables, and instituting part-time policies and change management processes. However, there was resistance to these changes from Page 236 | Top of Articleyounger workers who feared that they would be negatively impacted by the lower productivity of older workers and job rotation and who felt dissatisfaction due to lack of participation in the program (Loch, et al., 2010). The company formed a council to face the opposition to the changes. By having group discussions and one-on-one conversations, the company answered employees' concerns. Employees were encouraged to describe how they felt while working in a new and changing environment and what their experiences were of working with a new mix of people in the workforce. From there, BMW adjusted its policies and work environments based on feedback, causing productivity to rise 7% per year (Loch et al., 2010).
Guiding employees during changes requires a thorough understanding of employees' concerns and perspectives. By actively listening to employees, companies will have a better idea of what needs to be improved or adjusted so that people will accept changes and be productive. Management must be able to guide and direct employees at every stage of the change process in order to achieve successful implementation.
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