Anytime there is significant change in an organization, it can have a very unsettling effect. Examples of the kind of change I am talking about are major staff reductions, reorganizing to better meet the needs of the marketplace, new technologies that cause some jobs to disappear and others to massively change, or new bosses who you know will have different value systems and want to reconfigure things.
Employees typically have the following kinds of reactions:
1.) Fear the Unknown – It is often very unclear what will happen to them and how it will impact their employment status, their current job, or the usefulness of the skills and experience they represent.
2.) Loss of Control – Their future is not in their hands and may go in a variety of different directions. The sense that there is nothing they can do but wait to see how it plays out is very disconcerting.
3.) Don’t Know the New Rules – How will the value systems change and what will be the new goals and approaches used to achieve them? What are the behaviors that are valued and how is that different from the past?
Given the above reactions, you typically get the following kinds of behavior: employees go out of their way to stay below the radar, taking no risks and doing only what is asked. Secondly, they get very protective of their turf and very defensive about the value they provide. They also don’t make any decisions without checking carefully with the boss and tend to rely more on committees to spread blame if a decision doesn’t go well.
What can a leader do to minimize these kinds of reactions and behaviors as they drive change? Here are three suggestions that can help significantly:
Shorten the Pain Period – In planning change, it is important to nail down as many details of implementation as possible. What is ideal is announce the change and the details of what will be happening at the same time. Any lag between the two generates a period of tremendous anxiety.
Explain Why – Employees need to understand what is driving the change and why it is in the best interest of the organization. They may not agree, but it should be clear why it is happening.
Be Specific With Each Employee – The more details you have for each individual about their specific future, the better off you will be. It will help minimize uncertainty and fear, and get the focus on the issue of implementing with excellence.
If you don’t do these things, I can guarantee the organization will quickly become highly dysfunctional as the uncertainty breeds speculation, discontent, and paralysis.