Having managed multiple organisational change projects in several companies, including several physical office moves, I have picked up multiple tips and tricks on how to help your colleagues through this process. In this article I want to share those that I found most important.
The first thing one needs to realise is that change is never easy.
People will react differently to it. Some might react totally unexpectedly and literally freak out when faced with major change. As a Change Manager or Project Manager managing a major organisational change project, it is important to plan for reactions and watch out for symptoms of people reacting negatively to change.
Why is change such a disruption?
As human beings we are basically habit forming. Regular habits make our life easier and routines give us a sense of stability and security. Any disruption to that can trigger severe reactions in people. Such interruptions, can be as simple as our daily tea break being moved from 9:30am to 10:00am. But they can be major changes like an office move to a new location, a merger of 2 companies or an introduction of a new software.
We have all experienced such disruptions before. Stop for a minute and think of the organisational change that affected you the most emotionally. You might be surprised, what it was.
How we deal with change depends on multiple factors.
Some of these are:
A persons Character – very important, but not decisive on its own
Current stress levels in the office environment
Current stress levels in the private life
Current health of the person Etc.
What are possible symptoms?
When faced with change in our life we go through several stages similar to the stages of grief described by Kuebler-Ross.
It is important to understand that each individual, including yourself, will go through the stages, but they will do so at their own time.
Some will fly through the stages very fast, others may get stuck at the one stage.
They then may disrupt you if not handled well, or even incite people.
You need to monitor for strong reactions and intervene early.
Stage 1: Denial
Reactions like “This is not happening”, “This is not how we do things here”, but also “You won’t manage, others have tried before, nothing ever changes here”
·Comments like those mentioned. The individual does not believe that change will happen – comments might even be personal attack
Stage 2: Resistance
During this stage productivity, morale and even competence of individuals will go down. You need to be prepared for this and be ready to talk to the individuals affected to help them through the process.
Refusal to adhere to the change – claims that the new system is not working, or finding any excuse not use them
Sabotage – purposely use the new system wrongly, or “accidentally” going to the old office, or coming late, claiming the public transport has a problem
Subconscious sabotage – this is difficult to deal with, since the person just seems slow in taking up the system and seems to have difficulty to learn.
Claims this will never work – especially if other attempts to change things have failed in the past
The individual only perceives extra work or negative side effects, like extra time needed, system is less efficient etc.
The individuals feel they should receive extensive training first – this is a common reaction when operations are being digitalised. People feel they can’t do this unless they get extensive IT training
The individual feels that following the new system is beneath their position. I have experienced this often when Doctors are asked to enter their notes into the computer instead of writing on patient files.
As the individual reaches the end of this stage, he or she may now react with other concerns.
Sudden fear about the future – questions like
“Where will I sit”
“How will I get there”
“How will I learn if you are not sending me for training”
“How will we cope with the extra work” etc
· Rumours may start, like
“The company is going down”
“The company is being taken over”
or “We will all be sacked” etc
These are actually first signs of a person slowly moving towards exploration. However these individuals may need extra attention to help them to the next stage.
You need to understand that during this stage some individuals may decide to leave the company.
This is a normal symptom of a person who can not or does not want to handle change..
This can be very disruptive, if the individual decides to spread rumours and actively sabotage or fight against the change.
Team Leaders need to discuss such cases in their department with the team to allay any fears.
Stage 3: Exploration
The individual is starting to accept the change and is playing with the idea. They will come with questions, suggestions and may even want to push you to change your approach. You need to anticipate this stage and be ready to let them voice their ideas and suggestions.
Don’t ever feel attacked.
Request for changes of how things are planned
Criticism / Thinking they know better
Stage 4: Acceptance / Commitment:
The individual stakeholder will buy into the change and embrace it. They may even help others through the different stages.
What can I do?
Change requires meticulous people management. Hence you need to involve the following Stakeholders and work with them closely.
You will need a Change Management Team or Change Champions who work with you:
HR Department – you might find your Change Management Team from here
Heads of Departments / Team Leaders
1. Reach Stage 4 yourself
Before you even start the project planning you need to have accepted and embraced the change. Take time to talk it through with the project sponsor and have all your questions answered. Only then will you be able to lead your team through it successfully.
2. Get a team of Change Managers or Change Champions
Here you enlist the help of the HR Team, you can not do it alone
3. Get Buy in from your Senior Managers and Team Leaders
They will be your Change Champions helping you on the ground, clarifying things, answering questions and identifying those who are struggling with the change in their teams.
4. Brief all Stakeholders
You need to plan to have all stakeholders briefed officially. If those absent during the official briefing get briefed by their colleagues they often get a distorted version of facts. Plan several meetings.
You as the Project Manager for the Change Project need to be present during all scheduled briefings and need to be officially introduced as the Change Manager / Project Manager
5. Give ample opportunity to ask questions
The traditional 5-10min at the end of the briefing is not sufficient, you need to give everyone a chance to ask questions and voice concerns.
Few will be brave enough to ask questions in the first 10min.
Others may gain courage to ask, once they see questions are taken serious and being answered.
However there are those who will never ask questions when bosses are present or in a big group.
These need to be handled by the Team Leaders., who need to create an environment in their teams where questions can be asked.
How they facilitate this should be left to them.
The Change Manager or Change Management Team need to be deeply involved here. You may want to divide who works with which team.
6. Guide your Team Leaders on the stages of change reaction
They need to know the symptoms and anticipate them. Schedule meetings with the team leaders, either group or individual, to discuss issues with them. Create a forum where they can discuss individual reactions they find difficult to address
7. Get the Stakeholders involved:
Give them a chance to test the change.
This can mean organised trips to the new office location with a guided tour. Show them what will be where and where they will be sitting.
Have a computer set-up somewhere where they can play around with the new system or software.
Allow the team to have an input on the office decoration or set-up
Allow the team to review processes and give their input. Involve them directly in the development of processes, etc.
The more you involve the stakeholders, the faster they will accept the change
8. Schedule training:
Each Stakeholder needs sufficient training in the area affected by change. Training groups should be small, so that everyone can get the attention they need.
9. Give an opportunity to give feed-back after implementation:
This should include several options
Questionnaires – best online and anonymous
A chance to have individual meetings
Written feed-back like a notebook / a comment box / an online forum
Reward good improvement ideas
The possibilities are endless. Most important is that you give the opportunity for feed-back.
10. Rewards for uptake of the Change:
In one company I worked in, they monitored how people were using the new time & attendance system. They rewarded the 5 top users with 2 movie tickets each to a 3D movie. Photos of the movie outing were posted on the company social media channel.
Change Management is people management, which needs to be meticulously planned for.
You can not do it alone, involve the Senior Management, the HR Department, Heads of Departments & Team Leaders.
Throughout the entire change project you need to monitor for individual reactions of stakeholders and give each the attention they need.
If change reaction is not managed well, an individual can derail or seriously delay the entire project.
On the other side if you plan for change reactions and prepare the core team well so you will be able to make the change as little disruptive for everyone as possible.