One of my executive clients recently faced an organizational restructuring project – mind you – not the sort of restructuring where you have to make hard decisions and where you have to tell people that the new organizational structure will not have enough space for all of them. No – this was the reshaping of a growing organization that had outgrown its old structure and was preparing for the next level of its development. Exciting stuff you would think – so did my client. Much to his wonder, his newly formed team did not share his excitement.
What was happening here?
If you look at a simplified model of a Change Curve you are looking at four stages everyone affected by any change is going through:
o Status Quo
In the following I am aiming to explain what happens in which stage, how individuals react, and what leaders can do to help their team through the stages and return the organization to productivity.
The news has just hit! People may be in shock or surprise at the event; they may be in denial and are looking for evidence that what’s happening is not true.
How can you as the leader help? Give them time to adjust. This is the stage where information is most critical. You need to ensure frequent communication. Remember that you and the leadership team have been thinking about this change for a while and have become familiar with what the future will look like. The news you give to your team may be old news to you – to them it is all new. Communicate often but be wary of communication overload. When your brain is in a heightened state of alert you only take in and process bits at a time. Stay close to your team so they know where they can go for additional information.
The realization that things are going to be different is slowly setting in; in this stage people can experience a variety of feelings. Some are angry or frustrated – others are afraid of the unknown. Some will be more vocal than others – let them vent and listen!
This is the stage, which causes most disruption to the organization, and it requires careful and considerate management. Therefore, you should plan for this stage diligently. What objections could people have? What is the impact on each individual? Prepare communication material to address these questions ahead of time.
It may appear to you that some people resist change just to be difficult and because they refuse to see the bigger picture. Do recognize that change may affect them in a very real way, which you may not have foreseen. Yes, they may keep their job but may lose colleagues who move to different areas of the business, they may lose a part of their job they really liked, etc.. It will be really important for each individual to understand WIIFM (what’s in it for me), what am I potentially gaining as a result of this change.
Make time to meet with your team members 1:1. Try to avoid dwelling on the situation in group meetings – it is easy to fall into groupthink and for meetings to spiral out of control in a direction that is not helpful.
It is virtually impossible to preempt every reaction and question that may come up during such meetings; so be prepared to admit that you had not considered certain aspects. At the same time never question the change itself. Should people sense uncertainty in you it will undermine your efforts of helping them through this stage.
Entering this stage means that the organization is moving out of the danger zone. Once people enter this phase, they stop mourning what they have lost –they are letting go of the old ways and start testing and experimenting. They are now accepting the change and start finding out what is good and what is not so good about the change.
People need time to learn how to work in the new situation – be sure to plan accordingly. Provide ample support and training opportunities so they can become more and more productive in the new set-up. Give them a chance to explore, meet new colleagues that they now may interact with frequently.
Once you reach this stage the organization can start to benefit from the change. People are becoming more productive and efficient again and are embracing the change. They have integrated the new ways or figured out how to work best in the new set-up. Routine is setting in again.
This is your chance to prepare for the next time you’ll be facing a situation like this. Celebrate the success with your team. For some it may have been uncomfortable but together you have mastered this rocky journey.
Do not miss your chance to review this process with your team. What worked for them? What could be done differently the next time around – it is certain that there will be another change.
Sounds like a lot of work? Consider getting help to guide you through the process or engage someone to help with parts of it.
The bad news is: Some aspects of managing change can and should not be executed by an outsider – aspects such as giving people the “bad” news (if there is any) and receiving the negative feedback.
Here’s the good news: As a coach I can support you getting through the process as smoothly as possible; I can work with you and your teams, can be a sounding board and support you with aspects of communication.
Wishing you a successful week with confidence … Claudia
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