With our Head of People & Experience
Having managed large teams across a range of different industries for over 20 years, our Head of People & Experience Murray Stathopoulos understands that change is the only constant. We spoke to him about common mishaps when navigating change in business and how to avoid them.
What are some of the usual issues that arise when companies implement change? And how can you avoid them – or at least see them coming?
There is often a temptation to implement change quickly. And it might be the right change, but knee-jerk reactions usually mean the change hasn’t been thought through properly and communicated with the business. That can become quite dangerous because the staff can see it, they can feel something’s going on that hasn’t been communicated with them. So my advice is to think about what the change is, talk about it and if possible, socialise the idea and get some initial feedback. That can be difficult sometimes, particularly when the change is confidential but you’ll definitely need a group of people in the know. So having conversations rather than doing it in isolation is a good way to go about it.
More often than not, when change isn’t received well, the communication hasn’t been clear enough from the get-go. If you have a marketing department, they will have to become your best friend when it comes to devising a plan to bring the business in on the news, as the communication has to be accurate, frequent and honest. That being said, the plan needs to be flexible and have realistic timelines because the minute you set a date, you’re then the slave to it. Changing time frames creates unnecessary complexity and concerns throughout. Really it should be about giving people enough time to process and understand the change, ideally before or in tandem with implementing it.
Working with change is less about being reactive than you’d think. You’ve also got to think about the information and platforms you already have to hand which can help you figure out ‘where are we today?’, ‘where do we need to be tomorrow? and ‘what are the indicators we need to be different and to stay ahead of the curve?’ You don’t want to be in a position where you are chasing things immediately in front of you – instead, take the time to assess where you are.
“I think it’s important to give feedback so that the business can understand your queries or concerns. It’s totally natural to want to understand what role you’re going to have to play in that change.”
Not listening to your staff concerns
If staff aren’t brought along on the journey as to why the change is happening and how it’s going to be implemented, it is inadvisable to go ahead without giving them a chance to voice their concerns. Generally, it’s due to a lack of leadership communication that they are confused or unclear about the change.
Positioning the change as the solution to all future problems
Sometimes companies talk about change as the solution to all their problems. This is dangerous territory as ultimately, we don’t know what our future problems are going to be. Instead, position the communication in a way that tells those involved the change is going to help them do things differently.
What advice would you give to help people adapt to changes in the workplace?
It’s less personal than you think
For an organisation to even think about changing, evolving or growing in a different direction, planning is required that is bigger than you and me. I think there’s a stigma that change is done to people when actually it is generally done for people – and the greater needs of the business. In short, meaningful change needs to happen so the business can do something that it’s currently not doing; without that change, it can’t perform its best. So making sure the message is clear to staff that this change has been thought about deeply and that it’s for the greater good of the business is important.
Feedback to change is welcome
I think it’s important to give feedback so that the business can understand your queries or concerns. It’s totally natural to want to understand what role you’re going to have to play in that change. But giving feedback can also open up a conversation; there is a push by the business to do this – what is my role going to be in it? You can voice what makes you feel uncomfortable and ask for help in understanding the next steps.
Invest in leaders
Where leadership in the face of change can get unstuck is that companies don’t always have a clear and defined footprint for what leaders are supposed to look like in their business. So I think one of the biggest pieces of investment a business can make is investing in its leaders by enforcing not just traditional leadership development training but development around change. Once the leader knows how to guide and coach staff through change and can communicate the course of that change with their people, the more likely it is to be successful. Sometimes leaders will also know when to be led through parts of the change – this too is an important learning for leaders!
Taking an open and collaborative approach to change prepares the path forward. Inclusivity and clear communication provides solid ground for not only acceptance of change, but also a motivated engagement in change as it occurs.