Leading Change in an organisation

Let's start by paging Captain Obvious here, but the last few months have seen an enormous and unprecedented amount of change, disruption, and uncertainty on a global scale that has affected every employee in every organisation, big or small. 

The current organisational context and challenges that employers are facing are complex, and ambiguity relating to business change and organisational restructuring is probably the top of every HR team's list to address right now. As a result of this change, employees are feeling increasing uncertainty around issues we know to be key drivers of employee engagement, such as stress, job security, and role expectations.

The knock-on effect of all this uncertainty (and a lack of a crystal ball as to when it will all end) tells us that the purpose of an employee engagement survey must change too, and it's arguably becoming more crucial than ever before. Getting a snapshot of how well (or not) your organisation is managing through turbulent times provides important and valuable feedback and direction on how and where to act. It also allows leaders and managers the ability to focus on areas that may need more attention, and where to maintain or increase levels of support and communication over the short to medium term.

Typically, the questions around how well an organisation manages change score low across the board in employee engagement surveys. Data from 100 private sector companies in the UK tells us that 39% is the average benchmark score for the question:

“This organisation manages change effectively”.

We have spent some time this week analysing the data from our Vibe survey platform, doing a deeper dive into the big data to discover why this question scores under 40%. 

My Organisation Manages Change Effectively?

Our research told us that communication was the common factor in why employees do not feel that their organisation manages change effectively. The key breakdown point is when employees do not feel that they are kept in the picture, that change is forced and most prevalent, the style of communication; just how change is presented to the workforce and subsequently followed up, were low-scoring areas.

Our experience working with leaders tells us that you can’t over-communicate when it comes to change management. Every successful senior manager who has implemented change successfully will tell you to communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.

However, communication is also one of the toughest issues in organisations. It’s also an area that can frequently score low in an employee engagement survey, particularly when relating to a shift in the strategic direction of the business or a cut in budgets and employee spending, that will ultimately impact operational day-to-day duties (which is what we are seeing right now with the COVID -19 crisis). 

So, what’s the best way to communicate change, and how do organisations that get it right ensure consistency?

Communicating During Times of Change

There are many models of change management, each with a unique take on how to lead, communicate, and implement change. Probably the most famous is Dr. John Kotter’s. The 8-Step Process for Leading Change was cultivated from over four decades of Dr Kotter’s observations of countless leaders and organisations as they were trying to transform or execute their strategies. He identified and extracted the success factors and combined them into a methodology, the award-winning 8-Step Process for Leading Change.

When it comes to communicating the change, there are 4 simple steps to ensure you deliver the right message to the right people…

  1. What’s happening
  2. Why it’s happening
  3. How it will affect them
  4. What they need to do to facilitate the change

But before you can broadcast to the masses, you should also define exactly what the message should be. This is often more complicated than it looks as unfortunately the effectiveness of communicating the change begins with WHAT you say and HOW you say it. For that reason, defining the tone of voice and the message ahead of time is essential.

To do this, you need to establish:

  • What do the employees actually need to know?
  • How should you word the message (in such a way that you eliminate the risk of crossed wires?)
  • What questions are employees likely to ask?

Once you have created the message it's then time to decide who will deliver the message and what is the best channel for delivering the message. There is no one ‘best’ way to deliver your message – it all depends on your company culture and the nature of the message itself.

Finally, it’s almost inevitable that when you announce a change, employees are going to have questions. The big data in our Vibe platform told us how managers followed up when a change had been announced as the lowest scoring element in change management indices and also the most (negatively) commented in the free text section. It’s also worth noting here that when the opposite is true and managers follow up effectively, it can greatly affect the engagement score of the employee and they become ambassadors for passionately embracing the change and influencing others to do the same. Leaders and managers – take note! As part of your strategy for communicating change, you need to be prepared to answer follow-up questions, and specifically, you need to design and communicate the process for employees who want to ask questions, raise concerns, and provide feedback. Head in the sand just won’t do at this important stage.


Leadership Change Management


During these times, we have to ask ourselves if it’s the right time to ask employees for feedback on how they are feeling. It’s a question we’ve had from lots of our clients over the past week as this time of year is very popular for organisations to run their annual employee engagement and 360 surveys. The disruption of COVID-19 has left many businesses wondering if they should continue with their plans. In many other cases, our clients have been reaching out at a time of business disruption to ask to set up specific feedback surveys on topics such as remote working.

Things are changing every day, and each day brings up different questions and differing challenges. However, communicating with your teams, talking to them about how they are feeling, and asking for feedback on how the organisation is managing the crisis will help businesses come out the other end with engaged and supportive employees.

Stay safe everyone.

I recently undertook a 'Leading Change' masterclasses for our client Zenimax Media that covered the topics within this article. Find out more >  https://www.vibe.uk.com/blog/2023/12/leading-change-with-the-zenimax-leadership-team/ 

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