There are few things in life more certain than this: Change is inevitable. At some point, we all have to face transformations in our lives, our circumstances, or at work. We can even say, from a bigger perspective, that change is always present. The gentle old man that brings our newspaper does not come anymore, the trees from the street are cut out modifying the landscape, or our aunt unexpectedly dies. In any given situation, change can bring about uncertainty and concern, but can also be an opportunity to grow.
Business organizations experience change all the time, especially during financial crises or global instability, when companies need to adjust to new conditions. These may be unsettling times for employees because they do not know what to expect. Mergers, acquisitions, restructures, or strategy transformations can produce anxiety and fear, undermining confidence in long-term perspectives. So, how can an organization successfully navigate through these challenging, stormy waters?
Engagement is the answer. Employee engagement determines high performance and creates value for any organization. It involves the emotional (focus, motivation, passion) and behavioral (strive to give an extra effort) reaction to a given work environment. And it is this quality that is most at risk during change. The degree to which people identify with their organization, see a clear future, or adhere towards a common objective, can be severely affected, taking months or years to recover after organizational transformations occur. It becomes crucial, then, to carefully manage engagement during times of change.
As an organization, you must assure that you are taking the steps to provide abundant and clear direction and information over the upcoming events. Focusing on inclusion and the participation of everyone will help manage fear while fostering resiliency. “Once a company is well-prepared for change, and high levels of trust and accountability have been woven into the fabric of the organization’s culture, only then can they start preparing for the change battle. Behaviors and mindsets must adapt and a plan of attack developed and communicated. The first phase of winning the change fight is to empower the team and enlist as much participation as possible at all levels.” — says Brent Gleeson, U.S. Navy SEAL, speaker and leadership consultant.
Here are important points to focus on during corporate change:
1. Share the New Vision
It is vital that the organization clarifies promptly its new vision and mission, and share it broadly and frankly with the management. Managers should consider then how their teams contribute to that overall vision and mission. By depicting an exciting picture of the future managers can help employees understand their role in the upcoming organization.
2. Inspire Followership
Times of transition increase the need for leaders to be visible and approachable. Managers should acknowledge employees personally and professionally, listening to their individual concerns. Setting the focus on mission achievement, helping people grow their skills, and challenging them to find innovative ways to perform their roles will make employees feel connected to their managers, and managers feel connected to their leaders, enhancing the overall engagement in the organization.
3. Allow Communication
Maintain open and transparent communication at all levels. Spend time discussing expectations and the value of each role. Direct the focus of attention to the current tasks while opening up meaningful discussions about how the roles may positively change as new plans unfold. Keep communications simple, direct and authentic, and use the multiple channels to repeat the new vision into everything the company says and does.
4. Foster Empowerment
Leaders must inspire their teams to be accountable and take ownership. By giving managers physical and psychological autonomy to participate in the transformation process they will be empowered to lead change. They will know that their efforts contribute to something bigger than themselves, maintaining their engagement and thus inspiring others to be engaged as well.
5. Align Structures and Provide Training
During organizational transformation, the structure, processes and systems most often have to be altered to fit the new vision. Inform, share, communicate, and gradually instill those changes with sufficient time for employees to get adjusted. Then, provide enough professional training on technical skills, new ways of thinking, and new behavioral skills.
6. Ask for Feedback
Asking for feedback accomplishes several things during corporate change: Employees feel that their voice is being heard; it allows new good ideas to emerge; it provides the opportunity to explain the new vision at a more personal level. In all these situations trust and rapport are being built towards the organization.
7. Handle the Anti-Change Agents
Change will trigger varied reactions among employees. Some will get on board easily, others will resist quietly, and there will be the ones who outwardly oppose all the new plans. In these cases, it will be desirable to remove those anti-change agents. It will not be easy, especially if employees have been in the organization for a long time, but there will be costs if the political and personal implications of dealing with reluctance are not carefully handled.
To sum up, communicating a powerful change vision, empowering the force guiding the change initiatives, adjusting behaviors to be consistent with the new vision, enhancing a shared sense of purpose and alignment, allowing everyone to have a voice through transparent communication—are all measures that will foster engagement towards the future organization, and will spread out confidence in that the organization is counting on their people to go ahead.
Paula Arellano Geoffroy