How to effectively manage your staff through change

A business owner sat in a meeting room with her employees, working from an iPad.

Change is inevitable in life and in business. Like people, organisations grow and change so they can adapt to the changing way of the business world. An organisation’s inability to change could become its Achilles heel if it isn’t careful, which could result in the organisation being left behind by its competitors.

An indicator of this is the saying, “we’ve always done it this way.”

Many organisations have been going through a period of significant change on the back of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Some were already in the process of becoming more digital focused, while others have been forced to accelerate their adoption of digital ways of working, which has heaped pressure on budgets, managers, and on individuals, especially those who may not have been digital-savvy and will have required rapid upskilling.

This article has been written to support our article, ‘How businesses can develop strategies and incentives to increase work productivity and improve performance’, and to help you to think about ways in which you could effectively manage your team through change.

Why do organisations need change?

Organisations can undergo change for a variety of different reasons, both internal and external.

Internal drivers of change typically include: to achieve financial goals and growth, survival during tough times such as recession, and innovation from forward-thinking leadership.

External drivers of change can include: advancements in technology such as the switch from print to digital, societal influences which could include long-term sustainability to improve environmental impact, economic influences such as recession and increasing costs, and ultimately customer demands and trends in customer behaviours and their buying habits.

There are for categories for change:

1. Economic – Arguably the primary category because organisations constantly need to ride the waves of economic highs and lows and also to service the ever-changing needs of the consumer in their target markets.

2. Competition – “Keeping up with the Joneses” is nothing new, and you can bet that if one market-leader makes a change then the competition will soon follow suit. However, many successful organisations utilise change to get ahead of competitors and potentially steal market share rather than just keep parity with them.

3. Technology – Significant change took place during the industrial revolution, which introduced new technologies for mass production. Those businesses (even the market-leaders of the time) that didn’t adopt the new technologies for mass-production were left behind. In recent times the digital revolution has propelled businesses forward again, and those organisations who didn’t move quickly enough to adapt their businesses were unfortunately left behind, resulting in many high street favourites disappearing. The retail sector is arguably the most changed by the digital revolution, with much of its commerce  that was once done on the high street now being completed online, leaving towns and cities with less footfall and empty retail units.

4. Fashion – Goods and services have a lifespan, so will fall out of fashion at some point to be replaced by something new. A prime example is the landline telephone, once it was a must have for households, but nowadays many people only have a mobile phone because it’s more manageable and more convenient.

Change management is be the norm in many businesses, regardless of size, and for most employees change is barely noticeable, especially if it has become an integral part of business operations. The golden rule for any organisation is to only change for operational benefits, and not to change just for the sake it.

What are the benefits of change to an organisation?

There a many reasons why change can be good for an organisation, such as:

Generating new opportunities – Change can help to create new opportunities in new markets, or in unique target demographics, and generate collaborations with other companies. This can also be true for companies who are acquired by larger organisations, as the sharing of knowledge and the access to new clients can also generate new opportunities. These can all help to increase sales.

Staying relevant – If an organisation operates in a fast moving industry sector, then change can help the organisation to remain relevant to its target markets. This can help improve the organisation's relationship with it customers and help to improve retention.

Encouraging innovation – Test and learn is a buzz phrase of the digital age which is also relevant to change in general. Change can encourage a culture of learning which can lead to new innovations, new products and new strategies.

Develop new skills – Change can help employees and teams to identify which skills they need to develop. These new skills can lead to other changes that ensure a company has the ability to evolve and stay competitive. Learning new skills can also help to improve self-esteem among your staff and help to make them feel more involved.

Improve staff morale – Changes in an organisation can lead to greater workplace efficiency and can help staff members avoid work overload and stress, which can be better for their mental and physical wellbeing and improve the overall mood within the organisation. This in-turn can lead to a greater level of respect and collaboration between teams.

A change is as good as a rest – Changing for the sake of it is unwise, and can be an unnecessary expense. However, even a small change, can be as good as a rest. It could be a change of location, either within the office or a complete relocation of the organisation to a newer, more modern building. Alternatively, it could be an internal change such as the introduction of a social committee or an internal recognition programme. Whatever the change, it can generate excitement and re-invigorate your staff.

What is change management?

Change management is the approach taken in an organisation to move from its current state to a future desirable state using a coordinated and structured approach in collaboration with the organisation's stakeholders. It is often needed to ensure the continued survival of an organisation or to continue the relevance of a business in its marketplace.

How does change management differ from business transformation?

The difference is based on the scale of the change that is needed. An organisation can make significant impact via small, ongoing changes that combine to deliver benefits to the organisation. In some cases, these can be “quick wins”, which is when a small change makes a big difference almost straight away. Whereas, an organisation that might be switching from paper systems and processes to digitisation will likely require business transformation due to the volume and scale of the changes required to systems and processes as well as upskilling of staff.

Top tips for managing your staff through change

Successful change management requires changes to behaviours. As such, this requires a focus on people, culture and behaviours within an organisation to prepare the organisation for the change, to demonstrate the change and it’s positive effects, to encourage buy-in from stakeholders and staff, and to embed the new behaviours into the organisation.

It is key is to encourage your people and get buy-in from them. Getting your staff on-board is crucial to smooth transitions. Forcing change with an “iron fist” will only make the journey bumpier as the organisation might encounter some reluctance and resistance to a strict approach.

We highlight some top tips to ensure the process of change is a smooth one:

Clear communication – It is vital that you are clear about your goals and clear in how you are going to achieve those goals, and what the roadmap and timescale for change is, because this can help you and other personnel in the organisation create a plan for successful change.

Operating a “need to know” approach is not advisable as you could struggle to get the buy-in you need, which could result in pushback and delays. Clear communication will help your staff to feel like they are involved in the change process.

Ongoing training – Training and coaching can be performed internally and externally. Internal coaching could cover exactly how teams can perform certain aspects of the change plan. External training might include filling any relevant skills gaps within teams to ensure they can successfully facilitate the change plan and the new future ways of working.

Training can help staff build confidence, it can help to inspire other staff members, it can also help to further endear staff to the organisation.

Encouragement – Change can be stressful, especially if your team is small and regularly operate at capacity, because change can temporarily increase the workload of your staff. Even if you have a clear process for team to follow to achieve change, it is advisable for managers to be empathetic and encouraging towards staff to keep harmony in the organisation.

Strong leadership is vital for successful change management, but if managers try and force change through without empathy they could risk breeding resentment and ill-feeling within their teams which could be detrimental to the organisation in the long-run. Tone of voice and the language that managers use to motivate their teams is crucial to success, therefore it’s important to show your human side, be approachable, and to lead by example to get buy-in from your team.

Ask your staff for feedback – Requesting feedback can give you a clearer picture of how your internal teams are adapting to any changes. Some departments might be functioning better than others and feedback can inform you of alterations that you could make to ensure success across all teams. Empowering staff with tools to make them feel more in control of their future can increase their confidence when adapting to current and future change plans.

Adopt a continuous improvement model (Kaizen) – Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “continuous improvement”. Continuous improvement is all about making small, incremental improvements in processes and systems which will lead to long-term benefits.

Adopting the kaizen model can encourage your organisation and your staff to perpetually move forwards through improvements to behaviours and attitudes.

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