Going through change at work? You need help managing it.


I have no doubt that you or someone you know has been browsing the job market over the summer in search of a new career or job opportunity. Of the conversations I have had, many of these searches are a reaction to the way their management has chosen to run their business and often with little communication about these plans to their staff AND customers.

The trouble that is stirred up as a result of poor communication from management can be catastrophic for everyone affected. The doubt, fear, and mis-trust that bubbles up when decisions are made quietly in the background around people’s livelihoods doesn’t just impact those directly affected but also their families and the business’ customers who may see a business self-imploding as a result.

Change is hard, especially in a large organisation and when new initiatives are introduced by management, studies have shown that employees tend instinctively to oppose them. They do so because it disrupts established power structures and ways of getting things done. When those in charge try to make changes without communicating the reasons why and their associated benefits, you risk creating a culture of negative thinking that will be harder to eradicate than it was to create.

It does surprise me how senior managers who would have no hesitation in conveying what’s going on in their personal lives to their families and friends forget to apply the same motivation and approach to their professional counterparts. I have heard countless stories where the priorities of the staff are put on hold as soon as the company’s investors and CxO starts applying the pressure to improve revenue and growth figures.

Elephant-in-the-room

Priorities such as compensation plans, training, and creating and adhering to logical processes and procedures are always a shared priority between staff and management until the ‘powers that be’, clearly motivated by money, want to crank up the business. Then those priorities are left to the staff to care about as management shifts their gaze up the power chain.

In doing so, staff are left de-motivated and ill-informed about their role, their sense of worth, and their future within the business, and in many cases, management are so busy tied up in meetings or doing whatever it takes to save their own skin that they never check back down the power chain to see how the most important assets of their business are doing. They just hope that things will work out in the end.

And then come the redundancies.

Any member of staff who choses to leave a business that is in a state of flux like above have to dig deep into their strength of character to make them look attractive to a potential employer. If their compensation plans or role have a lack of clarity around them, they are often unconfident about their worth and potential in a new role. What’s more, with so many redundancies taking place before and over the summer, those looking for jobs will often have to wait until HR have paused for breath; the process of redundancy is not just a drain on time and resources but also on the emotions of the very people having to do it. The whole thing becomes a really rather sorry state of affairs that could have been easier to contend with if management didn’t cause such a negative chain reaction.

Businesses go through different levels of change ALL the time but it is when the situation faced demands the full attention of management that the foot comes off the gas of other equally important discussions. If management cannot avoid blundering established priorities when it comes to big change, then they need to look to recruit the skills of someone who can act as a linchpin between all those involved and affected within the business – a change agent.

So many organisations are contemplating turnarounds, restructurings, and strategic shifts that these days it’s essential to understand how the use of change agents in other organisations can help them. Change agents are not a special species of person, they could even be from a third-party organisation like here at the Cowshed. They work most effectively when they are central to an organisation’s informal networks regardless of their position in the formal hierarchy – this means that they don’t just get brought in when the proverbial hits the fan but are already well connected with a sound understanding of the culture and the plans for the business. If you look at change agents as an ad-hoc arrangement, you soon encourage something similar to the cartoon below.

Essentially a change agent will help keep the communication arteries of the business free and will keep management on point when it comes to their short- and long-term priorities for the business.

If you’re already experiencing pain within your organisation as a result of impending change you MUST nip the problems it may be causing already in the bud. Leave it too long and it becomes a hidden disease that you’ll never be able to eradicate. No matter how good the reason for change and no matter how well it improved your business in theory, in practice you’ll soon realise that you shelving the existing priorities of your staff for ones that are yet to take root, will stunt your potential for growth.

You could risk losing some of the best talent you’ve ever had and their clients will follow (even without your employee asking) and the costs of trying to find better replacements will simply outweigh the cost of investing in spending more time getting your staff’s priorities right first.

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