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Helping Employees Cope with Organisational Change

14 Jan 2013

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Federal Secretariat Abuja



By Linda Eroke

As societies continue to evolve, so is demand for new products and services changing. As a result, businesses often are forced to make changes to stay competitive. Expectedly, every organisation goes through periods of transformation that can cause stress and uncertainty.


However, it is when economic conditions are most unstable that companies most often need to change, and change quickly, if they are to survive. Managers, then face a daunting task and to help their organisations weather a downturn, they need to ensure that employees fully buy into change initiatives and make the necessary alterations in their day-to-day activities.

A variety of factors can cause a business to reevaluate its methods of operation. There are internal and external factors: The external environment factor is affected by political, social, technological and economic stimuli that cause changes outside the organisation while the internal is affected by the organisation’s management policies and styles, systems, procedures and employee attitudes.

Competition
The entrance of a new competitor into a market can cause a business to change its marketing strategy. For example, late last year, Tiger Brand, a South African company acquired a majority share in Dangote Flour. This brand will no doubt compete with Indomie in the production of noodles. Therefore Indomie will have to change its marketing strategy in order to remain relevant in the industry.

Technology
In an anxious era, even more modest initiatives, such as the adoption of a new IT system or product innovation, can force a business to change just to keep up. In just a few months, the technology that an organisation uses on an everyday basis may be outdated and replaced.


That means an organisation needs to be responsive to advances in the technological environment; its employees’ work skills must evolve as technology evolves. Organisations that refuse to adapt are likely to be the ones that would be left behind. If an organisation wants to survive and prosper, its managers must continually innovate and adapt to new situations. For instance, the introduction of email ticketing by airline operators has resulted in increased efficiency and better customer service.

Mergers and Acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions happen when two companies become one and combine business operations. When this happens, resources are deployed and costs are reduced. The acquisition of Oceanic Bank by Ecobank is an example of a business combination that has improved customers’ service and satisfaction.


This is so because both banks combined to offer superior services which would benefit customers and increase profitability. The acquisition saw shareholder value increase and an increase in their market index in just a few months.

Government Regulations
Government can play a part in organisational change. Changes in government regulations can have an impact on how a company does business. For instance, newly mandated safety procedures can force a factory to change its production process to create a safer work environment. Businesses that make or distribute consumer goods such as food products might have to add more quality control measures to ensure consumer safety.

Desire for Growth
Businesses that want to attain growth might need to change their method of operations. They can also choose to rebrand and change their corporate identities. For example, former Bank PHB started as a small financial institution under the name Platinum Bank and struggled through its first several years. The bank began to grow in profitability after it changed its name to Bank PHB.


Thus, to be successful, businesses must develop improved production technologies, create new products desired in the marketplace, implement new administrative systems, and upgrade employees' skills. More importantly, businesses and organisations must be able to adapt to changes in the marketplace, world, political climate and other areas.


Managing Change
Nevertheless, managing change can be difficult, because most people become accustomed to one way of doing things, and change can cause stress for individuals. Also, organisational change initiatives could trigger anxiety among employees in even the best of times. But in situation where the survival of the organisation is being threatened, change can elicit fear, even panic among employees. In such times, calls to change can provoke intense resistance.


According to Jeanie Daniel Duck, a former senior partner of the Boston Consulting Group and author of ‘The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change’, helping employees support change - of whatever scope - starts with understanding the five phases of a change initiative and the emotions each phase typically provokes.

He noted that organisations experiencing stagnation in growth in form of falling sales, customer defections or difficulty attracting talent often push for change, adding that in some cases the organisations go into denial, declaring that everything is on track.


However, he emphasised that “leaders who decide to make a change should announce the decision even when managers' and employees' emotions range from fear ("Will I still have my job?"), to relief ("Thank goodness somebody's doing something!"), and to excitement ("Let's get going!").


At the level of implementing the change initiatives, he said: “leaders announce new assignments, define new reporting lines, or mandate new processes. In addition to feelings of threat, fear, and uncertainty, people may experience confusion, apathy, resentment, worries about inadequacy, or exhilaration. Some feel a surreal sense of living simultaneously in two worlds, as they grapple with the current state while striving to build the new desired state”.


“Some things seem different, but the changes have not taken firm root yet. Working with new bosses, new rules, and/or new processes, people are confused. They make mistakes that can slow down the change process. Naysayers boast, "I told you it wouldn't work." The change initiative is at its most vulnerable point during this stage.

“However, at the fruition stage, all the hard work starts showing tangible results: rising stock price or sales, increased efficiency and lower costs, promising new products, more customers. Emotions include confidence, optimism, and energy. But leaders take note: individuals' satisfaction with outcomes may become complacency that can stand in the way of future change,” he explained.


In moving from anxiety and resistance to hope and action, Duck offered some suggestions for assuaging employees' anxiety, getting through their resistance, and sparking their hope and energetic buy-in.

He explained that the most powerful thing a manager can do is to “interpret what is going on for people and explain what it means for them in specific, concrete terms.”


“For example, last year I worked with an insurance company seeking to rein in costs in order to remain competitive as the market wobbled. Employees began crumbling under a crush of media reports about the firm's see-sawing performance and the forces buffeting the insurance industry as a whole.


“As anxiety intensified throughout the ranks, I suggested that company leaders ease tensions by explaining to employees what the news reports meant for them. The leaders told the workforce: "We can't predict the future because the market is just too volatile. We do know that we will need to cut expenses, but we are not going to have a layoff,” he said.

In addition to laying out the plan in clear terms, he emphasised the need for employees to know how the organisation intends to update them as the change initiative unfolds. “Will you call a special meeting each week to update them on the change? Send out a weekly email? "Tell people when and how they will get information on what is going to change,” he stated. According to him, employees need reassurance that their leaders are actively involved in the change, that they know what they are doing, and that expectations will be made clear.

He insisted that managers should explain the rationale behind decisions that will affect their team whenever they can. He added: “In fact, whenever you see a chance to lessen uncertainty and increase understanding, take it. Uncertainty feeds anxiety; knowledge calms it”.
He further stressed the need for managers to accept that people can experience wildly conflicting emotions at every stage throughout the change process noting that even within one individual, sadness over abandoning long-held ways of doing business may compete with excitement about a new and possibly better direction for the firm.

“Let people know that such a maelstrom of emotions is normal, and that people who experience this phenomenon are not less talented or less valued because of it”, Duck said.


Speaking further, he said managers must stay connected citing instances where some senior managers make only rare appearances in their organisations. He said "That is a recipe for disaster when a company is making a change during tough times.


“This is no time for managers to be remote no matter how busy you are, carve out time to eat lunch in the cafeteria, answer people's questions, and gather information on how people are handling the change. This will help you find out where resistance is brewing before it boils over. Make connectedness and communication imperatives for the managers who report to you”, he emphasised.

Duck noted that “If there is any silver lining in the dark cloud now hanging over the economy, it is that we are facing an equal-opportunity situation. No industry or organisation is dis-proportionately affected. And all companies have the same opportunity to reinvent themselves in the face of immense challenge.


“By shepherding your team through the emotional ups and downs of needed change initiatives, you help them build a track record of success that can sustain them during future change”,  pointing out that “Confidence is success remembered."


In conclusion, with all of the different ways companies undergo organisational change, it is obvious that with even the most financially stable of companies, change is inevitable. However, change provides opportunity for organisations to reinvent themselves in the face of immense challenges.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Business, Federal Secretariat

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