This article was updated on August 20, 2018.
Restructuring your midsized firm, if managed poorly, can create disruptions that can hamstring your organization. If you intend to retain your talent and ensure business continuity, offering employee support through restructuring is important. A successful restructuring demands several components: a clear business rationale for the change, clear and continuous communication of that rationale, honesty and transparency about consequences for employees and dealing well with the complicated impact of change on employees. A midsized firm is often likened to a family, so even small changes can create big turmoil.
Here are five steps for midsized organizations to manage change effectively:
1. Anticipate Typical Human Responses to Change
While some people are hyper-adaptable and welcome change as a new opportunity to grow, some employees will be skeptical, initially. Change forces people outside of their comfort zones. You should anticipate that change will trigger the full range of emotions with your employees, such as
- Fear of the unknown. Employees will want to learn how the change will impact their work. Don't be surprised if they initially assume the restructuring will negatively impact them or others. Expect defensiveness, fear and anxiety about next steps.
- Fear of failure or nervousness about their capacity to change. Many people don't want to extend beyond their daily routines and will want to retain the "old way" of doing things. They will deny that change is necessary and then oppose it.
- Lack of trust for the sponsors of the change. Because employees often feel suspicious about change, they may attach that suspicion to those who are initiating change. The assumption will be that the change benefits the sponsors, while creating problems for everyone else. So without a foundation of trust inside the organization, any change faces an uphill battle.
2. Allow for Early Feedback and Discussion
Nothing makes employees feel worse than a loss of control over their work lives. If the organization is seen as imposing the change from above, without input from employees, then the perceived loss of control and mistrust among employees grows. By inviting participation and feedback as soon as possible, HR can not only help execute the change better, but can also recognize pockets of resistance that need to be soothed.
3. Over-Communicate Consistently
In an uncertain climate where communication is absent, workplace rumors and false information fill the information vacuum. Either the organization's official communication channels will be heeded or the office grapevine will win the day. It's far better to over-communicate about the reasons for the change and the specific plans for implementing it.
Poor official communication will force managers to address misconceptions and rumors continually. But by taking control of communication proactively, you build credibility and momentum behind the change.
4. Offer Support Through Employee Assistance Programs and Training
You should concentrate on helping employees develop the skills necessary to embrace any restructuring. That training could include stress management and resilience-building for especially resistant-to-change employees. Enable access to training resources via multiple channels, and encourage employees to use your Employee Assistance Program to resolve personal problems related to stress, such as anxiety or feelings of depression.
5. Maintain Your Performance Expectations During Restructuring
Just because big changes are coming doesn't mean employees should be allowed to slack off, viewing the process as some kind of transition period. Make it clear that all employees are expected to deliver on their key performance indicators — before, during and after the restructuring.
As psychologist Mandy Rutter explains in a Guardian article about restructuring, times of major change are "when managers and bosses take note of who keeps their head, [and] who gives them the solid support they need through difficult times." If you expect employees to keep their heads and keep working effectively, the transition will feel less significant and fears about major changes to their work lives can be swiftly assuaged.
Offering effective employee support through restructuring processes at your midsized firm will create a level of consistency as your organization begins a sometimes uncertain and disruptive transition. HR leadership should focus their efforts on communication and be vigilant that employees are provided with the tools and knowledge they will need to adapt.
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