Every once in a while the economy whacks everyone on the side of the head to remind them to shape up, pushing companies into a state of shock. 2008 showed us a perfect example of a good whacking with a major collapse in the financial markets. A year on, the shock has worn off, and it’s time to shake off the dust and march forward. For many companies, this is the time to reevaluate the course of action, reposition the company, or reconfigure the organization.
For most people it’s so much easier to go back to the way things used to be. The thing about change is that it mostly strikes the emotional part of the system, and whoever charts the course, must expect and properly handle the emotional ups and downs of the organization throughout the transition.
Just over the past few weeks, I’ve either been involved with or have witnessed the firing of a CEO, birth of entire organizations, layoffs, and repositioning of companies (yeah, I’ve been kind of busy). Although I personally enjoy the prospects of change, years of dealing with various companies and organizational changes has taught me a lesson or two about dealing with the unsettling factors involved with major change within companies. I’ll share a few of them here.
Deal with the fear of change. Your other option is stagnation which is much more scary. The way you can help the organization overcome the fear of change is to provide as many facts and analyses as is possible. The more knowledge everyone has, the less emotionally reactive they become.
Don’t act out of panic. You’re almost sure to make the absolutely wrong decision. Enough said?
Take things one step at a time. Keep a strategic view, make your plans, then act accordingly. Huge mountains are conquered one step at a time.
Remove yourself from the situation. Pretend like you’re giving advice to someone else. I’m saying this from experience. Something happens when you’re removed from the situation – you become more rational and less reflexive in your decisions. If you have a hard time with this, change management consultants can help you through the transition. Hello!
Get your staff on board during the planning process. You need the affected division heads on board to make successful transitions happen. They need to understand why the change needs to occur, where the organization is headed, and how you will get there in order to transmit the ideas throughout their respective organization. The more time you spend with them before the change occurs, the easier the transition.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Engage the organization throughout the change process both by talking and listening. This is no time to hide behind your computer screen. Pay particular attention to the quiet ones. They’re the ones listening to everyone else and can provide a wealth of information about the general morale and other on-goings within the organization.
Expect problems. Know that things will go wrong. Your staff will get cold feet, the markets will change, your finances won’t go as planned. It’s OK. Your plan should have wiggle room, but also, don’t beat yourself (or anyone else) up if things go off course. Regroup and pull things back on course. You never know, you might even decide to change the intended course halfway based on the new data.
Not everyone will be unhappy. Whenever I’m presenting to a group about the need for change, I notice a few quietly nodding their heads. Some of your staff is already on board to make these changes happen. Use them to help you in the change process. They already share your vision, and can help you during the transition.
The ending is just as important as the beginning. Once you’ve gone through the change process, don’t let the organization fall back into the old patterns otherwise your efforts will go to waste. Everything will feel wiggly for a while. Make sure all the processes, new systems, and new positions are solidly in place before you relax and grab that martini to celebrate.
I remember during a massive layoff at one of my old employers, the division heads were trained to deal with all kinds of violent behavior, people crying, etc., then one of them passed out during the exit interview for someone he was laying off. No one had thought about the strain on the management staff during the change process. Yeah, fun times.
I’d love to hear about other emotional factors you’ve witnessed during major change at your organizations, and how they were dealt with.