How to Manage Organizational Change to Reduce Risk and Uncertainty

by Granville Triumph

Organizational change is inevitable. When a company is doing well, it needs to change to support ongoing growth and success. When a company is struggling, it needs to change to stop the bleeding and regain its competitiveness. When market conditions change, organizations need to adapt to ensure customer needs are being met. When compliance requirements change, organizations need to update processes and systems to stay out of hot water with regulators.

Meanwhile, staff from top to bottom wonder how they’ll be affected by organizational change, whether it involves new leadership, a new business model, new business processes and policies, technological upgrades, restructuring, or mergers and acquisitions. Without a sound change management strategy, an announcement of change can easily turn into a disruptive morale killer.

Will I lose my job? Will I take on more responsibility? Will my hours and/or compensation change? Will my job be more difficult? Will my long-term growth be affected? Will I have to relocate? Should I start looking for a new job?

Organizational change may be inevitable and is often expected. But how you manage change and present change to employees could very well be the difference between success and failure.

The first step to managing change is to define the change, determine the business value of the change, and make sure the change is aligned with organizational goals. Determine how the change will affect each business unit, right down to the individual. Implement a structure for measuring the change process in terms of business impact, and maintain a record of your findings to evaluate the effectiveness of your process.

Carefully planned communication with staff is critical. A staff-wide meeting or video conference or, even worse, an email or memo, isn’t likely to be well-received. Not all employees and departments will be affected in the same way. Change could be perceived positively by some and negatively by others.

Consider holding smaller meetings with teams and even individuals to discuss how change will affect them specifically. These meetings should be closely coordinated to prevent the rumor mill from running wild and avoid feelings of being blindsided. There will probably be a period of adjustment when changes are made, so provide a support structure to help employees adapt to new responsibilities and cope with the emotional aspects of change.

Make sure you communicate organizational change in a way that’s personal and relevant to employees. Be ready for different types of reactions, predict employee questions, and have answers prepared to ensure consistency. Train all who will be involved in disseminating information to avoid conflicting messages. Plan follow-up meetings that allow you to provide additional information, answer questions and offer support.

Employees tend to appreciate having multiple opportunities to absorb the information you share and ask thoughtful questions, which can reduce their anxiety, uncertainty, and even anger. This will also help to build trust in you and the information you’re sharing.

Perhaps the most important part of communication with staff is the “why” behind organizational change. The less people understand change, the more difficult it is to support it. Explain why the change is happening and how the organization will benefit. Lay out your vision for the future. When you explain the “why,” you reduce feelings of uncertainty, instability and stress.

Organizational change is always intended to produce improvement, but poor change management can lead to disastrous results. Make sure you have a strategy in place that supports not only your business goals, but the team that will be responsible for achieving them.

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