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Helping employees cope with change

I was recently looking at the readership stats on a website that publishes some of my articles. My 10 tips for implementing change was the most popular - and by far. So popular in fact, that it had been accessed three times more than the next most popular article.

Now I know that change is a big issue for business, but I hadn't realised that it is more important than delivering bad news well or making meetings more productive and enjoyable.

In her book The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change identifies 5 stages of a change initiative, the emotions they provoke in employees and offers some new advice on engaging employees in the change process.

The phases are:

  1. Stagnation. Signs of trouble emerge: falling sales or stock price, customer defections, difficulty attracting talent. Those in the organisation who are aware that things can't go on like this begin to push for change. Others go into denial. They declare that everything's on track and bristle at suggestions to the contrary.
  2. Preparation. Leaders decide to make a change and announce the decision. Managers' and employees' emotions range from fear ("Will I still have a job") to relief ("Thank goodness somebody's doing something!") to excitement ("Let's get going!")
  3. Implementation. Leaders announce new assignments, define new reporting lines or implement 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.
  4. Determination. Some things seem different, but the changes haven't 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 proces. The critics confirm "I told you it wouldn't work." The change initiative is at its most vulnerable point during this stage.
  5. Fruition. Ideally, all the hard work starts showing tangible results: stock price or sales start to increase, improved 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.

Duck offers a number of helpful suggestions for dealing with the emotions triggered by change. An important way of keeping employees on board during the change process is to agree how to communicate with them. One of the things people fear most is uncertainty - it fuels the rumour factory and people's anxieties.

I believe the biggest challenge leaders face is the loss of trust that results from change programmes, particularly those that result in redundancies. Visibility and open communication from the start of the process will help to foster trust between leaders and followers, even if downsizing will result.

What do you think? 


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