Workplace Change Management: Leading Through Change in the New World of Work

19 Jul 2022

In today's fast-paced world, organizations must constantly change and adapt, and they face many challenges in doing so. One of them is the fact that change, while often a good thing, makes people uncomfortable. People have a natural aversion to change, and when the workplace is being transformed, employees often feel threatened by the process. They think of negative consequences such as pay cuts, new managers, restructured teams, company-wide layoffs, and so on. 

As a leader, it's your job to set the tone for your team and help your employees understand and cope with the changes ahead. It's not easy, but learning how to manage organizational change carefully and thoughtfully is an important part of leadership. It's important to know how to help employees adjust to their new roles and get back to work as quickly as possible to avoid lost productivity, so let’s go through some strategies for managing change in an organization.

What Is Workplace Change Management?

The workplace change management process is a structured approach that helps employees overcome their resistance to change and embrace the new work environment. The goal is to help employees manage the process, make the transition smoother for them, and optimize their performance throughout the project. Because managing the change is hugely important in preparing employees for the new workplace, it is best done by an experienced third party who can help them navigate the cultural transition from their current work environment to their future workplace.

Why Do We Need Change Management?

A smoothly functioning change management program reduces stress and keeps employees productive and performing throughout the project. This not only reduces costs and minimizes productivity losses for the company, but also helps employees feel valued, respected and appreciated. When led by trained professionals, change initiatives can result in a work environment where employees feel comfortable, productive, and embrace the new space from day one - because the process preferably starts at the beginning of the workplace strategy development and design process. 

An early start means problems can be resolved sooner rather than later, and there is less risk of budget increases, delays, and unhappy or underperforming employees.

Examples of Change in the Workplace

Change can sometimes be inevitable. A company usually undertakes a radical transformation of its business model when it responds to new technologies or wants to adapt to take advantage of new business models that come its way. Here are some examples of major workplace changes that impact workers, so they need to know how to successfully adapt to and manage these workplace changes.

New Technology

Before trains and automobiles, companies that made parts for horse-drawn carriages were popular. Then they became obsolete. And that's just one example! Throughout history, technological change has forced companies and even entire industries to close or adapt. The publishing world is among those that learned to adapt when desktop publishing pushed publishers large and small to sell their products online.

Repositioning

Some companies decide to restructure their products or even reposition themselves in the market. This is called "pivoting," and companies end up doing it to avoid slipping into irrelevance. One example of such a repositioning is YouTube, which started out as a dating service (yes, it was designed so that people could upload videos of themselves talking about the partner they wanted to meet).

Change in Leadership

When a major management change is coming, it's only natural for employees to worry about the potential changes. They wonder how it'll affect ongoing projects, workplace culture and even their jobs. Whether they're directly or indirectly impacted by the change, employees usually find that it's best for them to be proactive and learn how to best manage the transition to keep their jobs. 

Acquisition

There are times when companies are acquired and merged with other companies. This can create an additional layer of employees, and roles can shift. In some cases, managers may have new supervisors or be demoted. Once the acquisition has occurred and the transition begins, employees may feel uncomfortable because restructuring would be the next step.

Company Restructuring

Companies are always looking for ways to cut costs, and this sometimes includes restructuring (or even downsizing). Restructuring may require entire departments to do the work of others, or require employees to do work they aren't trained to do in order to cut costs. This can lead to employees feeling that their jobs aren't secure, which in turn leads to low company morale.

Physical Move

Finally, there are cases where the corporate headquarters decides to move to a new location. This may be in the same area or in a completely different location. Sometimes there are programs that offer key employees the opportunity to leave with the company. However, for others, there’s the possibility of being laid off. Employees will need a lot of reassuring that this isn’t the case – if, of course, this isn’t the case.

woman reading a paper while moving out

Who Is Involved in Managing Organizational Change?

Change management requires key people to be committed to change, to coordinate their efforts in certain ways, and to support employees during the transition. Some roles are the actors on stage, while others orchestrate the change activities behind the scenes, but ultimately their collective influence helps the organization achieve its change goals. 

However, the process is usually led by a third party with experience in managing change projects in the workplace and working with internal departments and external partners. The success of the project depends on employee buy-in, and a third party can facilitate that success by delivering the hard messages, remaining impartial, and using their extensive experience to ensure project success and employee satisfaction. After all, they face similar issues on every project and can identify and address potential problems early!

Input from various internal functions of the company, such as HR and IT, helps focus on the many facets of company life and culture, including how change is implemented, accepted, and embraced. The reason for including IT is that many organizations take the opportunity to upgrade technology when they are planning a workplace change. Coordinating these multiple change efforts requires careful planning and deserves special attention to ensure that all projects are connected in a unified approach to achieve the best results.

8 Tips for Building Successful Workplace Change Management Strategies

The best change management strategies include planning, transparency, communication and employee engagement, but these things are not easy to accomplish during a major change. Here are 7 best practices you should rely on to make the transition as smooth as possible:

Planning Carefully

Before proposing a change, create a clear plan that includes at least the when, how, and why of the change. Ideally, you will have documented the tasks required to achieve the desired goal, outlined the new or changed responsibilities, created a detailed timeline, and developed responses to potential concerns.

Going in Stages

Change should be gradual. First, develop a solution that you introduce on a trial basis to give employees a chance to become familiar with the changes. Have a small group of people try out the solution first to work out any bugs and make any necessary changes, and only then integrate it into your organization – slowly.

Being Transparent

Change often requires a certain level of confidentiality, but it’s actually helpful to be as transparent as possible with employees. Even if you can't share everything with them, do share the parts you can and their implications to help everyone feel more comfortable. Take time to explain why the change is happening and what it'll look like.

Being Honest

It’s best to be as honest as possible with your employees. If you sugarcoat things or promise unrealistic results, they will become suspicious and distrustful. While it's important to maintain an optimistic attitude toward your team, you should also acknowledge potential challenges and drawbacks.

Creating a Roadmap

Help your employees understand where the company is, where it's been and where it's headed. If you lay things out clearly, the thinking and strategy behind the change will become clear, and employees will be able to see how it fits into the business model they're used to, or how it'll evolve.

Providing Training

If the change involves a shift in technologies or processes, provide adequate training to your employees to help them master the new way of working. Make sure this training is available when the change is announced so employees don't feel they're being left behind due to a lack of skills or experience.

Asking For Feedback

Give your employees the opportunity to participate in decisions or provide feedback. Employees will be grateful to have the opportunity to speak freely and be heard, and leadership can get different perspectives and understand impacts that they might not have thought of otherwise. Win-win!

Measuring Results

Once the change process is underway, monitor the implementation and rollout to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that you'll ultimately be successful. Keep a close eye on potential issues and address them in a timely manner. Define metrics to measure success and ensure you stay on track.

colleagues discussing in a meeting

How Can HR Support Employees Through Change?

The ultimate goal of change management is to improve organizational outcomes by engaging employees and inspiring them to adopt a new way of working, and HR is critical in times like these. Here's what they do:

Build the Business Case for Change

The change program begins with understanding the organization's motivation for change and its ability to successfully adapt to that change. It is very important that business leaders be "transparent" and "honest" about the reasons and ability to change and explain the benefits, costs, and threats associated with implementing or not implementing the change. This, in turn, leads to employees feeling engaged and involved in the change process from the beginning.

Develop a Shared “Vision”

As companies move toward a "work anywhere" approach, creating brand new spaces that foster teamwork, it's important to understand what employees need. This can also enable better communication with them and minimize their concerns. For example, if a company suddenly moves to open-plan offices, many employees might be concerned about noise levels. It is critical to involve them in design decisions to gain acceptance and buy-in for the future workplace. 

Communicate for Acceptance

Communicating about the change should be sustained throughout the life of the project and ensure that those affected by the change understand and are prepared for it. Employees expect clear, concise, consistent messages. The earlier the communication, the better, because people need time to mentally adjust to a change in the workplace. Workers want to know about the new building, furniture, technology, space design, and generally how the change will affect them. 

Management of Change

HR can appoint and empower a body of change agents in each department. These change agents are an integral part of the change process and act as a liaison to promote change, dispel rumors, and share insights and observations with change management and the project team. Activities and events such as pilots, room naming contests, furniture, food and coffee testing are an important part of gaining employee support and reducing their fears.

Adapting to Change

Change is considered successful when it becomes the "new normal." A review of the change program helps managers understand the extent to which planned outcomes have been achieved and how well employees have adapted to their new roles. Of course, as a company evolves, its business strategy and subsequently its workplace strategy also change, and leaders will need to look for potential improvements and innovations again. But that’s a story for another time…

A well-designed workplace change program, if done right, should align people and places with the desired business outcomes, culture and goals; but that’s only if you make the transition easy for everyone involved. As a leader, what you can do is inspire your team, think strategically, be open-minded, and show them that they can count on you to look out for their best interests. Do you have any other tips for managing workplace change?

Topics: Office of the future, Hybrid Workforce, Workplace Experience

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