Seven steps to managing people through change

train track change

Andy Gilbert, Founding Director, shares his thoughts on successfully managing the people issues of change.

My work with organisations across the world has consistently highlighted the need for pragmatic help to handle, manage and develop people through change. Originally this lead me to include a chapter on this subject in one of my books ‘The Pillars of Successful Management’ which has now been updated to the book ‘How to Save Time and Money by Managing Organisational Change Effectively’.

This information is largely based on academic and case study research of 67 organisations carried out by myself and my research team about what is now termed ‘Survivors Syndrome’. Based on this work, here are seven key areas to consider in managing people through change:

1. Start by understanding the effects of major organisational change on yourself

If you are reacting adversely to the change or finding it difficult to accept, this message will be passed onto people that you work with or manage. This will happen unconsciously through the information you pass on, your tone of voice and your body language. Therefore, you need to help yourself first before you can help others.

2. Recognise that people react internally to the external changes

Understand that people react internally to the external changes that are happening around them. Therefore, an internal process of adjustment needs to happen as well as the practical external steps of the change. The internal adjustment may not happen at the same pace as the external changes are put in place. Hence, people managers need to plan to help others to adapt to and accept change internally in addition to planning the logistics, systems, procedures and physical factors that need changing.

3. Help others to adapt to change

Acknowledge that to move forward people need to let go and end certain things. You can help by encouraging them to recognise what has ended and what is now different. This can be done by simply asking questions about the effects of the change on them as an individual. Allowing them to talk through and explore these issues will help them to come to terms with the endings and therefore increase the speed at which they are prepared to move forward.

4. Point out what will remain the same

The research showed that only 15% of someone’s role responsibilities had to change for the person to feel they had a completely new role. Recognising what will be the same helps people to understand the impact and extent of the change. It also provides some stability by identifying what will remain familiar to them. Ask the question, “Following this change what remains the same?”

5. Communicate as fully as possible

Ensure communication about the change gives as much information as possible, including explanations for the reasons for things happening. Feelings of personal uncertainty and insecurity about the future can lead to adverse reactions to change. By supplying information and explanations you will be able to counteract some of these adverse feelings. Even if you have nothing new to say, let people know when some new information will be available.

6. Involve people (and yourself)

Look to involve others (and yourself) in the changes wherever you can. It’s always possible to involve people in some aspect of the change however small that might be. This will help to give a feeling of control and therefore lessen the feelings of powerlessness that can lead to negative reactions to change.

7. Give additional individual attention at times of change

You will recognise that individuals will react to change differently. Therefore to fully understand the reasons why people resist the need to adapt to change you will have to give some time and attention on an individual basis. This will provide the opportunity to help people recognise and deal with the endings caused by the change. Also consider what individual attention you need or are being given to deal with the change. Who is supporting you?

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inhabit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

For more inspiration, please read our book ‘How to Save Time and Money by Managing Organisational Change Effectively’. We also have a number of podcasts about managing organisational change on iTunes which are free to download.

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