Managing organizational change

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Organizational change is inevitable, and we all need to deal with it occasionally. But when you are a manager, you’re responsible not only for yourself, but also for helping your team navigate the changes. Everyone knows change creates stress, but did you know that organizational change is one of the top workplace stressors? The good news is there are lots of things you can do to ease the way for your team.

Announcing change

We’ll talk about two types of organizational change in this article: reorganizations and process change. Regardless of the type of change going on, it’s important for you to share changes as soon as you can to avoid rumor and anxiety. Whenever you are announcing change, you should focus on why the change is happening, the impact to the organization and finally, the impact to your direct team. Some changes will create more emotional response than others. If the change is emotionally charged for you, work on managing your emotion by focusing on the facts and the ways you can help.

When you are describing change to your team, you should focus on opportunities created by the change. Of course, there may be threats and down sides to the situation. Be realistic and honest about the level of difficulty in the change. But even if you don’t agree with the changes taking place, you need to let the team know that your job is to put them in place. So, you can, and should, discuss the “elephants” in the room – but you should shift the focus to what is going to happen going forward instead of dwelling on the downside.

Reorganizations

Reorganizations create a lot of stress. Rumors can fly for weeks, even months sometimes, when major reorganizations are in the works and people can have a lot of time to speculate. Managers don’t always have a lot of time before public announcements. But whenever possible, you should communicate role changes privately before any public announcements. Then, of course, talk to the team about the change and impact to the team. If everyone is not aware of the impact for themselves personally, don’t give details about individuals. Let the team know when you’ll be communicating the new organigram for the team.

Get time with each of your team members to discuss personal impact. If you have new team members joining the team, you’ll want to spend a bit more time with them. Have a discussion about their experience and skills. Share your management style and principles with them and let them know how the team works together. In situations where employees have been moved around a lot due to reorganizations, you’ll want to reassure them as best you can. Often, just taking the time to have such a discussion can go a long way towards reassuring anxious team members. Formally introduce them to the team. Ask everyone to share their roles and something about themselves.

A discussion with the previous manager of team members moving into your team is an important step. Get an update on their perspective, the team member’s salary and performance. For team members moving to other teams, you’ll want to debrief their new managers in a similar fashion.

Finally, if your own manager changes, prepare a clear view of the team, key projects, known issues and your management system. Enquire about their management system and start getting to know their communication and leadership style. Help them get to know you as well by sharing your career trajectory and key skills – both those used in your current role and any untapped skills you aren’t being called on to use currently.

Don’t just assume that once the change is introduced, everything will work fluidly. Keep an eye on how things evolve. Some people adapt quickly and easily to change, others need more time and encouragement.

Process change

Digital transformation is disrupting legacy work processes and how things get done. New processes are meant to be more efficient and effective. The reality is, process change can have the opposite effect for some time before it is understood and becomes deeply rooted. As a manager, you play a key role in easing this transition for your team.

When you are communicating the change, it’s helpful to name a focal point who will share new information, become the “team expert”, and collect questions and issues. That could be you or it could be a member of your team. You can also assign specific topics to individual team members and have them share back what they learned with the rest of the team.

Make sure you are sharing the training documents for the new process. If there are multiple things under transformation in parallel, you may want to provide recommendations for your team for prioritization. Help the team understand where they should focus first, and the best way to get started. That can take the form of a structured training plan or a less formal set of recommendations.

Keep a pulse on what’s working and what isn’t. If there is a company focal point for the change, keep them informed of the major issues and barriers to progress.  Keep the team informed – either through direct participation in updates or by recapping for them. Identify the experts on the new process and help your team to connect with them when appropriate.

In the era of Agile, process change often comes in increments and new processes may be rolled out before they are completely ready for prime time. Frustrations will run high when process change interrupts and hinders daily business needs. Help your team to level-set on what is possible and what is not. Identify the impact and make sure your management is aware. Encourage the team to focus on what they can do and help them troubleshoot overcoming new obstacles.

Finally, talk to your peers and other managers who are managing the transformation. Share the experience your team is having. Learn how other teams are overcoming the obstacles. It’s empowering to know that you aren’t alone, and your team members should understand the level of difficulty being experienced across the organization. It’s not about whining about how hard it is – it’s about realizing that the issues are understood, and that the situation will evolve.

Change is hard. But as a manager, you can make it easier for your team by the way you handle it. Communicate. Stay involved. Keep the team focused. Step by step, change becomes routine again.