One of the most frustrating situations I see workers face is during times of organizational transition, such as mergers or acquisitions. I am always left wondering why the effects of such change are not given more consideration, particularly the impact on workers.
I have found that communication seems to take a back seat when it comes to informing employees about any changes, what they mean for them, how different things will be, and care about the emotional toll change can take. I have spoken with some leaders on this topic and have gotten responses, such as: “We’ll wait until the change happens as we don’t want them to worry” and “We don’t want information leaked out until it happens – it could cause disruption.” Seriously?
What leaders, who have these types of view, don’t recognize is that employees have a sense that ‘something’s up’ and feel anxious and worried about what’s to come. It seems there is not a lot of forethought prior to making a change.
As an example, I recently had a client whose company was merging with another; however, when they first started coming to me, they were told they would just move to the new company and their pay/benefit and title would stay the same. However, shortly after they were informed they had to interview for their job but were not told much about the new position being considered for. Now the client was feeling anxious and unsure now of IF they had a job.
A week went by and the client learned they had the job, but there was no title given, job description or orientation to the new company or duties. After another week, the client came in feeling demoralized as their new job was actually a step back; they still had no job description or org structure to know where her reporting lies. It also became apparent to the client that the company was facing their own uncertainties for the direction they were going or how all would fit, all of which should have been factored prior to the merger.
Our work consisted of helping the client to create strategies to cope and deal with the new position, conversations she needs to have with her boss to gain more clarity, and working to embrace the change, i.e. developing resiliency.
Here are some tips to help workers through organizational change, whether small or large:
Plan – ensure you have all your ducks in a row prior to making any changes; ensure policies and procedures are updated to reflect the new way; ensure job descriptions reflect new duties and are given to workers; provide an orientation to acclimate workers to the new way so they can feel more comfortable with the new; have a time-table for implementation.
Communicate – I can’t stress the importance of keeping workers in the loop as to what is going on; just because you haven’t informed them does not mean they do not know as information gets leaked out somehow; other times, workers can sense when change is in the air – these all lead to speculation that goes through the grapevine and can create a sense of uncertainty and worry, or misinformation that can be detrimental (broken trust). Let workers know the how’s and why’s of change, how will it impact them, when any change is about to occur, and being open to hearing their concerns. This will help to calm their fears that can lead to resistance and help them to be open and embrace changes you are making.
Have Check-Ins – be sure to follow up regularly with employees to see how they are doing and determine any need to help them work through any difficulties they may find. If you are a new leader in a role, have consideration for your new employees as you are coming into their space, where they have had a relationship with their former boss, as well as ways of working; take time to get to know them and hear their points of view on work processes, team dynamics and the like, as this will build trust and calm fears. Check-ins can be done both individually and with the group in order to create cohesiveness. If time is a factor, designate a contact person for this role.
Recognize It Will Take Time – don’t rush to make too many changes in a short amount of time; workers, especially those with long tenure, have been used to both the work and the environment which leads to resistance (the fear of the unknown) so making big changes can create fears and uncertainty, both of which are poison to productivity and quality work. You will find some workers embracing the change, others who will say they are okay but secretly are resistive, and there will be those who will be downright skeptical and unaccepting. Being cognizant that resistance will occur and allowing for time to work through change will lead to more acceptance. Your attitude will set the tone.
How you present and handle change will set the tone for their success; give consideration of the feelings of your workers is half the battle and will recreate new attitudes. Help them and they will help you to ensure a successful new organizational future.
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