Enthusiasm for fiddling with processes and how to refine them shouldn’t blind specialists to the need for maintaining a focus on human values and morale.
In recent years the excessive reliance on deterministic algorithms has led many specialists to think of people only as homogeneous, interchangeable resources. That paradigm always leads to expensive failures –
- Loss of organisational memory and capability.
- Employee resistance and stonewalling of change.
- Suppression of the creativity necessary for innovation by enforcing automation.
Most people don’t like changes. Particularly not big changes. Being pushed along an unexplored path can create an atmosphere of suspicion and fear, which can be made infinitely worse by keeping staff in the dark about change progammes, or communicating too little. Either one will foster negativity, loss of morale, and a perfect environment for resistance by people who don’t understand why and how the change is going to happen, and how it will affect them.
For employees who don’t know what’s coming their way, the easiest conclusion to reach is that their leaders don’t know what they’re doing, that any change will be a disaster, and that it will make things worse for all staff.
My approach is to keep all employees in the loop by planning for, developing, and delivering regular briefings. Not just by firing off emails or updating organisational intranets and document repositories, but in person, with information directly relevant to them.
Central to my initial briefings in such circumstances, and reiterated in all subsequent updates, is a direct acknowledgement of change anxiety by talking about a change curve (see Figure 1 below).
The curve illustrates the human dimension of change as similar to the Kübler-Ross stages of coping with grief:
- depression; and
The diagram shows that in an well communicated change, employee expectations and morale might be quite high at the beginning of a change programme.
When the full extent of the effort required becomes apparent, however, employee morale and commitment can be expected to drop into a ‘valley of despair’. Recognising this potential is a good first step in preventing it, or reducing the depth of that valley.
It is important in the early stages to promote an appreciation for achievements to boost confidence and drive the motivation for further achievements. This might occur in subsequent briefings, referring again to the diagram, and pointing to territory in the curve rising to successful outcomes.
Equally important is recognising that the productivity or efficiency gains from any change will eventually flatten out; only economists and politicians talk as if productivity or economic growth curves can trend upwards endlessly without re-invigorating growth strategies.
Ideally an iterative improvement on an original change is ready to be rolled out by the time an initial change has reached a productivity or performance plateau.
Other elements of briefings
I prefer to structure briefings to include the honesty necessary to build trust no matter how bad initial morale might be, or how bad the news will be for some employees.
That means —
- I do not sugarcoat or avoid bad news. Employees are not stupid. They expect change to mean sacrifice and even job losses. If that’s what’s coming, I like to say so early and emphasise any redundancy packages, career guidance and transition packages, or other assistance packages that might be available.
- I always talk up the benefits of changes to employees directly. These might include less complicated and annoying processes, less tedious kinds of work as opposed to more stimulating, career-building activities, or just job security as opposed to job losses in a downsizing exercise.
- An overview of timelines and when to expect changed systems or practices is vital. It is the backbone of change briefings and should be updated for every briefing delivered.
In larger organisations, I like to customise briefings to include details specific to each group I address.
In smaller organisations the briefing might be no more than a quick chat at the start of the working week, and a reminder on the day of any changes.
Change briefing are a good start in managing employee expectations, moral, and contributions. But getting the most out of people directly involved in change programmes also requires an understanding that they are not robots, that different people are motivated by different factors, and that these should be taken into account when setting performance targets, or key performance indicators (KPIs).
Let me help you make sure that your change initiatives run smoothly to time and budget by creating the necessary awareness and ownership among your staff. Contact me to discuss your needs.