Help Your Staff Cope with Operational Changes

Aug 14, 2012
4 Min Read

Even the best businesses must occasionally alter their structure.  But operational changes are rough on your employees.  Change means uncertainty, and humans hate uncertainty.  As Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahay wrote in their incredible book 'Immunity to Change,'

“That ‘change makes us uncomfortable’ is now one of the most widely promoted, widely accepted, and underconsidered half-truths around.... It is not change by itself that makes us uncomfortable; it is not even change that involves taking on something very difficult. Rather, it is change that leaves us feeling defenseless before the dangers we ‘know’ to be present that causes us anxiety.”

So how can change management help your staff deal with operational changes without becoming overwhelmed or disheartened?

Simple.  Be straight forward and honest with them.

Here are some things you can do to alleviate the pressure that operational change puts on your people:

  • As I mentioned earlier, it isn't change that people hate, but the uncertainty and risk that comes with it.  So when it comes to project management, your best course of action is to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.  If there are going to be cuts in the department, don't fence around the issue.  Your staff deserves to know.  If it is merely a reorganization, make sure that you let your team know where they can expect to end up as soon as you know.
  • Make the chain of command clear.  Often, things can get a little messy when change happens. Having multiple bosses asking different things of you gets confusing fast.  Besides, it's just not good project management practice.  So make sure that the chain of command is clear from the outset of the change.
  • No matter how small the change, whether it will improve your business processes or not, expect resistance to what is happening.  Some people will just refuse to accept the change as something good.  But at the very least you can show them that the change is necessary.  Many operational changes arise from a desire to shrink the performance gap, the difference between how efficient a business operates and how efficient it theoretically could operate.  If your workers don't perceive a performance gap, they will never see the change as necessary.  That could mean your restructuring could end up with the 30% of process reengineering initiatives that fail.
  • Management is as much about understanding people as it is your business.  Keep in mind the needs and fears of your workers and you should have little trouble keeping your team on task during their time of change.

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