Change management – it can be like watching a car crash in slow motion

If you have some money to spend and you are about to introduce changes in the workplace, should you aim to invest before or after the changes are made?

This is a pretty crucial question because if you make the wrong choice, you may well be the next car crash I get to see happen in slow motion.

Over the years I have seen a tendency to spend money after the event. In fact I can almost predict what will be said ‘Surely it’s better to spend money on training, development and team building for those who are left or who are now in new positions than to spend money on people who might soon leave or who might soon be in a different role?’

This might seem logical, however…

The big problem with this is that what frequently prevents successful change and what holds change processes up, is ‘the people’. It’s seldom the financial or legal issues that hold things up or the practical issues such as ordering furniture, getting the new factory ready etc. There can be genuine delays with those things, but they are seldom huge delays or insurmountable delays.

But delays caused by people can be huge and massively damaging if they get out of control. Ignoring this fact and hoping that everyone will start pulling in the same direction once you make the announcement about change is quite simply a fool’s paradise.

And don’t think it will be just your employees who might be hostile to or defensive about change. Chances are a fair proportion of your senior management team will be too. They might smile sweetly at you and nod their heads sagely as you talk about the need for change. But don’t believe that the minute they leave your office their actions and words will continue the charade. The fear of change can affect everyone right from the very top of the organisation to the very bottom.

Here are  just two recent slow motion crashes I have seen (neither of them being Jaluch clients!) – both entirely preventable in my view had investment been made in change management support/training BEFORE the change.

  • A company laid off around a third of its staff over a 10 month period before then providing change management training to its senior management team with a view to them confidently managing the changes going forward.

Problem: during delivery of the training it became apparent that most of the senior management team were so disenfranchised with how the change had been handled to date that the training was pretty much wasted on them. In fact most were open about the fact that they were already seeking jobs elsewhere.

  • A company moved from Southampton to Bournemouth. A beautiful project plan was developed that encompassed all the practical issues. Huge amounts of time were spent with lawyers and accountants working out the fine details.

Problem: an inexperienced HR professional did not take into consideration some key people issues before the move including the fact that many had never worked more than a few miles from their home, average length of service was over 20 years and psychologically many felt that Bournemouth was a million miles away (despite it being an easy train ride or 30-40 minute car journey. As a result over half of their staff never made the move choosing instead to push for redundancy payments, despite redundancy not having been offered. HR then got tied up in the complexities of large numbers of staff leaving instead of being able to focus on a successful transition from one location to another.

Want to manage change well before the change occurs? Here are my top tips:

  1. Change management support in the build up to a change is more critical than change management support after the event
  2. Prioritise time on your people over and above time with your lawyers and accountants. Lawyers and accountants can enable change. But people can derail it.
  3. Don’t expect an inexperienced HR Manager to have a clue about how devastating it can be for the organisation if the people issues aren’t handled well.
  4. Stop assuming that both staff and managers will jump up and down with excitement at the prospect of change. Most will not! In fact some may well turn into change saboteurs. So expect this and then manage this.

Thoughts, ideas, comments? All welcomed of course. Want to share any of your experiences of successfully or badly managed change? Please do use the comments box below.

Going through a period of change but know that you have one or two individuals who are change saboteurs? Ask me about the coaching that Jaluch can provide to better support these individuals who are struggling. Or perhaps, if they have already stepped over the line in respect of acceptable behaviour, why not talk to us about how to move them out of the business altogether?

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