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Managing Change in the Workplace

Managing change in the workplace is a constant for all leaders. Use the tips in this series of articles to help your management process run more smoothly

Managing change in the workplace is a constant for all leaders. Because, to remain relevant as a business, you must regularly redefine:

  • your way of operating
  • your product/service offerings
  •  the impact you have on your customers and the broader community

As you are leading change (big or small) see to it that each of these elements are on your checklist of things to address:

Quick Navigation - Five Elements To Cover When Managing Change In The Workplace

Build a sense of urgency

For most people, any change is uncomfortable. Therefore, when managing change in the workplace, it is your job to help people see that whatever they've been doing in the past can no longer take place. That neither they nor the business will be relevant without change.

Therefore, ignite a fire of urgency to get people willing to move out of their comfort zone and embrace the change. Let them know why the old way is no longer sustainable, by finding compelling and real evidence that people can feel, see, and touch that change must happen and happen now!

A compelling case for change includes five characteristics:

  1. 1
    Describes 'why' the current situation is no longer viable. This needs to be done in a clear and meaningful way. You need historical information, internal statistics and marketplace data to build the case for change.
  2. 2
    Describes the projected cost of not changing. Costs are defined both qualitatively and quantitatively
  3. 3
    Paints a compelling picture of the desired future state. This includes quantitative and qualitative goals
  4. 4
    Provides a general strategic path to attain the desired state Produces a felt need for change within team members. The ultimate test of a business case for change is whether it creates a burning platform that compels people to accept change 

For example, you might point to:

  • Competitors who are now outperforming you
  • A declining market (for example who would want to be in the business of selling CDs or DVDs these days!)
  • Lower profit levels
  • Overseas markets opening up
  • Lower salary levels

Instead, share with them vivid, valid, real, and compelling evidence that grabs their attention and packs a punch and creates a belief: "We can do better!" 

 It is far more inspiring to focus on excelling and being your best, rather than  running from a place of fear, looking over your shoulder at what others are doing. 


For example, if you are making horse-carriages and Ford has just released his Model T, don't view it as a threat -- view it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop.


The image below shows 5th Avenue New York on Easter Monday. The picture on the left was taken in 1901, and the red circle shows the lone car amidst a sea of horse and carriages. 


The image on the right, taken in 1913, with the red circle showing the lone horse and carriage amidst a sea of cars! 12 short years and massive change. 

Managing Change In the Workplace - massive changes are rampant

The carriage maker will galvanize his team by saying, "We are in the game of transport solutions for people. So, what can we do to provide them with the easiest, quickest most enjoyable transport experience?"


That question will enable possibility thinking rather than fear thinking.


If you are terrifying your people with threatened loss of jobs, you can't possibly galvanize their best thinking.


You want to inspire your people to embrace the changes that are all around us. 

Potential Roadblock: Your aim is to catch attention. However do so without frightening people and destroying your team's self-confidence and perceived ability to win. Create a belief: "We can do better! I want to be a part of the solution."


You want to inspire them to get off their chairs and into action.


Create a belief:

"We can do better!"

Would you like access to 12 questions you ask that help you create compelling reasons to change? Access the Managing the People Side of Change Training

People Side of Change In The Workplace

Create a clear tomorrow

Remember that image of 5th Avenue and the replacement of horse and carriages with cars in 1913? The owner of the horse carriage making business could have announced to the staff, "If we don't change the way we make carriages we will go out of business."  It would have set panic amongst all employees.


Or, he could say something like, "We have an exciting opportunity in front of us. Because we provide transport solutions to our customers, we are going to look at how we can be competitive and thrive in our changing world.”


Can you see how that can be far more engaging?


The leader could then go on to describe the challenges, the opportunities, and the hope he or she has for the future. 


People want a clear, simple-to-understand 'promised land' to which they can travel.


People (employees, customers, and suppliers) must feel connected to your business and share a vision that they can buy into.


Show people how the change will contribute to their:

  • long-term development
  • security
  • work experiencing being more engaging and energizing

Signal to people that things will be different - without denigrating the past. Remember the glory of the golden past - but promise a brighter future. In addition, most importantly, remember to celebrate once you're on the path to the new way.


Read more about how to get people excited about the change and the future.

People are the key

Make sure you have the right people on board (behavior, skills attitudes) to deliver the tomorrow you desire and need.


The bigger the change, the higher people's emotions will be. You can read more about the eight most common responses you'll need to handle along with strategies for dealing with peoples' emotions.


People need to feel they have control, and some say in their destiny. Take that away from them, and you'll get resistance.


Involve people in the planning and implementation of the change. 


With participation, you open people up to the exciting possibilities contained within the change. Do it well, and they will become a driving force in creating the bright new future.


However, recognize that people will complain about change. It's just human nature.


Setting up the avenues through which people can raise questions, concerns, and complaints is a necessary step in gaining "acceptance" and "commitment." Therefore:

  • Announce the change,
  • Make sure there is a mechanism in place and multiple avenues for people to get more information, voice their concerns, raise questions, get answers and provide input to the change process, then
  • Give them ample time to digest the information before asking them to make decisions or changes

It is your job to identify whether people are complaining for the sake of complaining or whether they have valid concerns, that if addressed appropriately can strengthen the change process.

You can view people's resistance as a problem and treat it coercively, which will probably add more resistance. Or you can see it as a signal that people need more information or better treatment.


If you have already considered a concern that is being raised, then an appropriate response could be 'Thanks for your input, we have considered it and here's what we found... We are going ahead with the announced change."


However, if the person is raising a new issue and/or have found a problem that you hadn't recognized and one that is important, then obviously stop and consider the impact of the issue raised.

Involve people at the right level

All jobs and people in an organization are essential, but when managing change in the workplace, some are more important than others (just like the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm!).

As you begin a change initiative, map out the level of involvement and commitment each of the major stakeholders needs to have in the change process. You then use different communication processes and strategies for these various stakeholders.

There are three levels at which people are involved in change:

  • 1
    Aware of
  • 2
    Accepting of
  • 3
    Committed to
People Side of Change In The Workplace

Bacon & Eggs for Breakfast Anyone?

Managing Change In The Workplace - Being Aware, Being Committed, and Being Accepting

As an illustration.

Suppose your Manufacturing Department decides to introduce a new multi-skilling initiative, within their area. This change impacts directly upon the people in the manufacturing department; therefore, they need to be "committed" to the change.

The Human Resource Dept. needs to be "accepting of" this new way of operating. For example, they may want to be involved in reviewing/shaping the compensation and performance assessment processes, that support this change initiative (to ensure they meet corporate guidelines).

Maybe no one else in the organization even needs to know about this change initiative.

Or, maybe you may want other departments, whose day-to-day work is not impacted by this change, (for example, the Accounting department), to be "aware" of the new way of operating, so they understand why different people are interacting with them.

Have clear expectations

People are motivated to achieve things they can see, touch, measure, AND they've had a hand in creating.

Imagine bowling and each time the ball was half-way down the lane a big screen came down and you couldn't see how many pins you knocked over. You'd soon get bored with the game and quit.


Similarly, if someone tells you that you have to hit four strikes in a row, you could become easily de-motivated (or bored) depending upon your competency.


However, if you are involved in setting the goal of, "How many strikes do you think we could get in the next 3 games?" You may have more ownership in the achievement of the goal. The mindset being 'we decided that' rather than, 'they told us what to do.'


Don't be afraid that your people will under-set goals. It is true, they may very well set low goals to start with, especially if they are used to you 'telling' them what to do, and not being involved in, or aligned with the organization's targets.


However, once you get them involved and they see that their input is used - that  they have a degree of control over how things get done - you will be surprised how high, and how quickly, they raise the bar.


Make people responsible for collecting the data and making it available. 


You will find that potential problems get raised, and fixed, far quicker than if they wait, 'for someone in the back room,' to crunch the numbers and put the figures together.


Some of your measures will be data that is delivered at a predictable time/rate - e.g. improvements in productivity or profitability. 


Others, may be done on an as needs basis. If you see or feel that something isn't going well - then do a survey, take a mood feel and get things back on track fast.


As you are managing change in the workplace, it is important to:

  • Relate your measures to your strategic advantage and spell out a numeric expectation for every job/process in the organization.
  • Chart a few key behaviors that indicate progress in using the new methods.
  • Post them graphically in high-visibility areas - lunchrooms, etc.

What Gets Measured and Rewarded gets Done!

In the US hair salon industry, John McCormack of Visible Change, uses performance measures, bonuses and profit sharing to motivate team members.

To encourage excellent customer service, McCormack expects his stylists to build a 'request-by-name' clientele. When requested by name the stylist receives an extra 10% commission. When that happens 50% of the time, the bonus increases an additional 10%.

Finally, when a stylist is requested by name 75% of the time, the bonus kicks up another 10%. Once the particular hairstylist is among the top 50 requested in the chain, he pays another super-bonus.

McCormack's operations outperform the industry in almost every measure, and his hair stylists earn three times the industry average.

There are many more elements to managing change in the workplace, and I'd recommend you get your hands on the training "Managing the People Side of Change" because in that we help you to ensure that you've set your team up for success.

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