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Tips to manage change in the workplace

Managing change in the workplace is something that employers often have to deal with. Change can bring discomfort and generate stress. However, it is necessary for companies to constantly evolve and continue to be competitive. Change, when managed well, presents more opportunities than challenges. There are specific change management techniques that employers can follow when it comes to managing change in the workplace. This article will shed some light on these change management strategies and how they can serve the organisation, leading to successful change.

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What is change in the workplace?

Organisational change happens when a business modifies its operations or its strategy. It often relates to newly implemented technologies, organisational structure or company goals. Depending on the element being changed, the impact on employees will vary and therefore the level of change management applied should be adapted accordingly.

The two levels of change experienced by businesses

Levels of change in a business can vary drastically depending on what is being changed and what impact this change will have on employees and business culture in the long term. Typically, businesses can experience two levels of change.

Adaptive change

Adaptive change refers to minor amendments to the organisation processes, structure or technologies. It allows the business to evolve over time and with its time. Adaptive changes often happen on an ongoing basis and do not necessarily require high change management attention. As the change is minor and more of a fine-tuning, the effect on employees’ daily jobs will be minor and the transition should be smooth.

Transformational change

Transformational changes require more attention. They impact the business in its core and are usually a response to external pressures emanating from competitors or the market itself. Transformational changes have an impact on business strategy and usually have a wider scope and global scale. They often reshape the business structure, strategy and processes and result in a shift in company culture. Check our article to learn more about communication in company culture.

Types of change

For businesses, change is hard, but resisting it is harder as it sets them on the back foot versus their competitors. Below are some examples of organisational changes businesses may experience during their life cycles.

Technology change

In today’s landscape, technology evolves at a fast pace. As a result, organisations have to constantly adapt and implement new software or systems to improve their business efficiency. Technology changes should be planned for and communicated thoroughly to avoid employee frustration. Technology changes should be part of a company’s digital strategy.

Structural change

Structural changes are often a result of mergers and acquisitions that generate job duplication. They can also emerge due to fast changes in market conditions. These changes are often led by human resources as they impact people, often across the entire organisation. As its name states, structural changes are changes made in the business structure, including the leadership structure, management hierarchy and team setup. They may also impact the responsibilities of different departments of the business and employee job structure. As a result of structural changes, new departments may emerge in the business.

Strategic change

Strategic changes aim at ensuring the business reaches its set goals. The source of such change is often the highest level in the business, for example the CEO, who may be accountable for the results of strategic changes. The purpose is to ensure the business adapts to the market it evolves in, takes advantages of the opportunities while dodging the threats. It boosts competitiveness and drives business success.

Curative change

Curative changes aim at fixing an identified issue in the organisation. These types of changes can occur following an unexpected event and need to be dealt with swiftly and effectively. Shifting employees to remote work is an example of such changes. They occur due to unplanned events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depending on the type of change, businesses have to navigate through multiple steps to ensure they deploy the most appropriate change management process.

Tips to manage successful change in the workplace

Change can be daunting for leaders and employees alike. When managed well, change gives a boost to the business and may allow leaders to gain respect and employee loyalty. On the other hand, poorly managed change can weaken a business by having an adverse effect on the organisation and its people. Change management requires strong leadership and senior sponsorship. Below are some tips for organisations that are in their change journey. 

Planning for change

Planning for change is essential. The change lead should prepare a change management plan that highlights the goal of the change as well as all steps that should be undertaken to implement the change in question. In the plan, each step or action should have clear ownership assigned to them with an associated timeline. Dependencies from one task to the other should be clearly highlighted as well. The plan should be reviewed on a regular basis and all stakeholders involved should be part of scheduled project meetings to ensure a smooth transition.

Anticipate resistance to change

Resistance to change, to a certain extent, is natural. With change, employees see their routine disturbed and have to adapt to new ways. Some will express their reluctance; others will put off implementing any required action. Resistance to change may come from the uncertainty that the change generates. It may be addressed by thorough communication that clearly explains the benefits of the change as well as its purpose. Maintaining trust with these communications and throughout the change process is critical. For more information on how to manage resistance and conflicts in the workplace, check our dedicated article on this topic here.

Involve the union in the management of change

By involving the union, the change lead helps protect the interests of the workforce, which will ultimately reduce the resistance to change and facilitate the consultation process. The objective is to demonstrate that the project involves all parties and that opinions are valued.

Lay out the purpose of the change

Like with any communication, the end goal should be communicated. When implementing organisational change, leaders should ensure that they clearly communicate the purpose of the project and the benefits it is anticipated to bring to the business. Similarly, to generate a smooth transition, it might be beneficial to clearly communicate the different steps of the change. By articulating where the company is today and where it is heading in the future, leaders show transparency and can gain trust.

Define what is changing and make it simple

Not defining what is changing in a clear and simple way is a common mistake. Stay focussed on the purpose of the change and its content and communicate this in a clear and simple way to the audience. Achievements of key milestones in the change process should be celebrated. Change leaders can also create FAQs and lead Q&A sessions. Doing these additional steps can address any rumours and provide reassurance. Updates on the change should be related to the pace of the change that is being implemented.

Do not undermine the old

In the purpose of driving a new initiative, it is a common mistake to dismiss old ways. This approach can have a negative impact on employees who worked hard on those items. When announcing the change, leaders should recognise the work that took place to date while communicating how the new will benefit the business. For more information, you may also check our article on how to motivate your employees.

Anticipate any roadblocks

Anything new may present some risks due to the unknown. Before implementing the change, a risk assessment may be conducted. The objective is to identify any potential roadblocks through the change process. In addition to this risk assessment, businesses may be upfront about the challenges the change might bring to employees.

Keep the dialogue open and be ready to take in feedback

Launching a change management process is learning and accepting to deal with emotions. Naturally, the change will generate questions, ideas and feelings from those affected by it. Having an open ear is essential. Managers and C-suite leaders should validate those feelings and address them in a clear manner. Being heard often makes the difference and helps avoid growing tensions.

Identify change influencers

Senior sponsors but also influencers within the business play a key role in change. Getting them on board and utilising them as ambassadors will draw interest and influence others in adopting the change. It will instate confidence and trust throughout the change period. These influencers can be long-time workers, highly engaged employees or admired leaders. Source them before the start of the change process and ask for their endorsement.

Measure the impact of the change and its success

Change does not stop at the end of the change management plan. Measuring the change, its adoption by the audience and the impact it has had on people is essential to identify if any areas need to be emphasised or re-addressed. Change leaders may have created KPIs that will allow them to measure the success of the change at key milestones. Employee satisfaction surveys may be used to measure people’s perception of the change. Learn more about employee satisfaction surveys here. The measures and the reasons for the results can serve as learning for future change management projects. 

Change is hard but is essential for businesses to grow, expand and thrive. Business leaders should see change as an opportunity and a chance to reflect and evaluate ways of working for continuous growth. Thorough planning, change management strategies and appropriate communication backed with senior sponsorship are critical for successful change in any business.

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