How to Manage Workplace Change

4 mins

Mary Shelley wrote in her novel Frankenstein that “Nothing is so painful to the human m...

Mary Shelley wrote in her novel Frankenstein that “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”.  If you are a business owner or manager who has ever tried to instigate a change in the workplace and have had employees resist this in some way, you may find Shelley’s words easy to agree with.

Why do some people find change difficult?  Academics Cameron and Green set out five key categories of influences upon the individual and how they react:

  • The nature of the change - e.g. change that results in expansion may make people feel optimistic, whereas contraction may case them to fear for their jobs, even if they are not directly at risk of redundancy at that time.
  • The individual’s history – Past traumatic experiences of change can affect how people react to change, even if it relates to something entirely different, because their past experiences have taught them that change can be painful and difficult.
  • Organisational history – does the organisation have a good track record of implementing change well, or have there been past occasions of when change has been implemented only to then be revoked or have negative consequences?  If the latter applies, it is understandable that people will remember and be cynical as a result. 
  • The type of individual – What type of personality does this person have, and how are they motivated?  If you can identify what motivates somebody (e.g. power, inclusion, money), then this can potentially be used to present the change to them in a positive way.
  • Consequences - who are the winners and losers? Sometimes those in authority can be focussed on “what’s best for the business” and lose sight of potential negative impacts on individuals.

As such, change management is something that should be planned with care, taking the above influences into account where possible, rather than the change just being thrust upon people. There are various models for planning change management, however, John Kotter’s 8-Step Process[1] is commonly used because the steps are easy to understand and contain detail on actions that can help to address concerns individuals may otherwise have. 

Kotter’s steps are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency – if employees do not see the need for change they will not be motivated to change.
  2. Form a guiding coalition – one or two people acting on their own cannot drive change.
  3. Develop a vision – without a clear strategy employees’ imagination can fail.
  4. Communicate the vision – repeatedly to the workforce.  Just because you said something once, that doesn’t mean that everybody heard and understood it!
  5. Empower employees – the management team must confront and remove obstacles, rather than ignoring them and hoping they go away, but should also empower employees to find solutions.
  6. Generate short term wins – to maintain the momentum and motivation for change.
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change – to adapt to shifting business environments.
  8. Anchor new approaches in culture – new behaviours and values must be rooted in the culture if change is to be sustainable.

As HR practitioners, we often see employees raise formal grievances as a result of change.  By following a clear process which includes careful communication and consideration of individual needs, many of these could be avoided.

If you are a business owner or manager and are planning a change in the workplace, ViewHR are here to help you plan – please contact us today for an initial discussion to find out more.