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THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE Organisations are constantly evolving to stay current, but how does this affect employees. Jenny Williams and Samantha Gadd look at the impact of change and the role HR can play in supporting leaders to ensure a positive change process.


Employment Today | MAY 2018


he prospect of change is daunting for any organisation, but for employees it can be particularly unsettling. The staggering pace of change in the world we now live in, the speed at which new technologies and automation are introduced and the changing nature of customer demands mean organisations are having to constantly evolve to stay current. More often than not senior leaders make contact with HR as an afterthought—once change decisions have been made. At this point, chances are that the correct processes have not been followed and employees have not been properly consulted. And if change is done badly, the consequences can be far-reaching and damaging. While HR practitioners have a key role in ensuring organisations adhere to the legal and contractual requirements and processes, they can

also ensure senior leaders place the needs of employees at the heart of the process and give deliberate thought to the employee experience at every step during a change process. It is therefore critical that the call to HR is the first call that the senior leaders make—not the last one.

IT’S ONLY HUMAN We all value our jobs. For employees, any possible changes to their role are deeply personal. Even whisperings of change can evoke a strong emotional response. The feeling of uncertainty that change brings to the whole organisation cannot be underestimated. For employees affected by change, the fear of the unknown and the overwhelming sense that they are losing control over their future can lead employees to feeling resistant to change. It is human nature for these employees to immediately start thinking

employee experiences. Being able to clearly articulate the rationale for considering change, and engaging employees directly and early, helps employees deal with the inevitable emotions in a more purposeful and deliberate way. Employees who are involved early and support the change can become your change champions, supporting your leaders to communicate and explain the change and providing support and information to their colleagues during the process. Employees should also be involved in the process of determining what solutions are available to address the problem. Their ideas can be invaluable, and their input can help narrow down all possible options to those that could work best to address the problem—not only for the organisation, but from an employee and customer perspective. When you do move to consulting on a proposal for change, employees will have a greater appreciation of the need for it and how that proposal has been reached with a sense of ownership over the outcome. Consultation will also feel more genuine if employees have already been involved early in the process and feel they have been listened to. “what does this mean for me?” And across your wider organisation, employees on the periphery of the change will be wondering if they are next and will be watching closely to see how their colleagues are treated. All of this leads to a high level of anxiety. Productivity, engagement and morale can take a dive. However, there are a number of things HR practitioners can do to help alleviate the fear and anxiety that employees experience during change.

1. WHAT’S THE “WHY”? All organisational change must have a strong rationale, based on an objective assessment of all relevant data and information, that results in a genuine business reason for the change. The first step is identifying the problem that needs fixing. Before even thinking about solutions, senior leaders should consider the alignment between

their organisation’s purpose, vision and strategy, and what they are trying to achieve through the change. Focusing on the problem first creates an opportunity for employees to be engaged in a genuine and meaningful way. Employees are often in frontline, customer-facing roles, with a wealth of relevant knowledge and information that is not necessarily available through data and metrics. This information can be vital to identifying what the actual problem is that needs addressing. Cost savings, for example, could be made through amending processes to gain efficiencies, rather than redundancies. The employees who are deep in those processes are best placed to identify where those efficiency gains can be made. Taking an approach like this demonstrates strong leadership, which is one of the key elements of great

2. A GOOD PROCESS IS KEY Having a clear and easy-to-follow process is not only important for ensuring that employers adhere to their good faith requirements, but can also help alleviate some of the uncertainty that employees experience during change. It is important to be clear about what process will be followed, the timeframes in which it will occur, what information employees can expect to receive, and how they will be involved in the process. Authentic transparency is fundamental. Unless there is good reason not to, as much information as possible should be shared with employees. The process you follow should adhere to your organisation’s values. A hasty change process that does not involve employees, other than in the bare minimum requirements for consultation, rubs up against values that embody the need to collaborate, respect, support and care. MAY 2018 | Employment Today



This can create an ‘us and them’ culture where employees feel there is one set of rules for them and another for senior leaders. It can also lead to feelings of mistrust and add to the resistance to change. The way the change is conducted will have a direct impact on your organisation’s employment brand. All employees will reflect on a change process that is misaligned with the organisation’s values, and question whether they want to work for an employer that treats its employees in that manner. This will then be directly reflected in how they interact with customers during the change process. In contrast, a well-run process that adheres to the values will create a more positive employee experience. Employees are more likely to view the change as fair and genuine, even if the outcome is that some people lose their jobs.

3. WHO OWNS THE CHANGE? The short answer is not HR! HR’s role is to guide and support, but not to lead the change itself. This task should fall to leaders, preferably those at the level closest to the employees who are most affected. While this can be a daunting task for leaders, for employees it is reassuring to be able to ask questions and discuss the change with their line manager. For this to work well, leaders at all levels need to understand the rationale for change and be unified in the approach being taken. It will create greater trust in the process if the senior leaders speak with one voice on the change and this is cascaded through the levels of leadership in the organisation. Keep in mind that any change process does not only have an impact on employees, but on leaders too. The experience your leaders have will have a long-lasting impact on the organisation well after the change is complete. HR practitioners have a vital role in supporting leaders through change to ensure they understand the value of engaging with employees and approach the change with empathy and an open mind.


Employment Today | MAY 2018

4. COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE AGAIN AND WHEN YOU THINK YOU’VE DONE ENOUGH, COMMUNICATE AGAIN! To ensure a great employee experience is maintained through such a disruptive period, not only must communication be thorough, consistent and constant, it must also be authentic and personal. If employees are called to a meeting and told that the company is thinking of restructuring some or all of its functions, it’s likely they will only take in a fraction of what is said from that point on. If that was the only communication to employees about the change prior to being issued with a proposal, in the forthcoming days they are sure to fill that vacuum of information with speculation and assumptions, and the fear and anxiety they feel will skyrocket. If, however, that was only the first step in informing employees, and they were then invited to participate in discussions with their team and on a one-on-one basis with their manager, the result could be very different Employees need to be given information about the rationale for change and told the steps that the process will take. Ideally, employers will then engage with employees to identify and articulate the problem and have input into possible solutions for the process to succeed. That way, they will be more likely to feel engaged with the process, and more likely to remain productive and engaged while the change process unfolds.

5. MEET EXPECTATIONS During change, it is then critical that leaders do what they have said they will do. There is no greater cause for disillusionment than if reality doesn’t live up to the expectations the leaders have set. Long-lasting damage may be caused by any breach of expectations—which in itself is critical to maintaining a positive employee experience.

THIS IS A QUESTION OF TRUST, WHICH CAN BE SO EASILY BREACHED IF THE PROCESS IS NOT SEEN BY THE EMPLOYEE AS GENUINE. This is a question of trust, which can be so easily breached if the process is not seen by the employee as genuine. If the engagement with employees is treated like a ‘tick the box’ exercise and employees are not actually listened to, they will question the authenticity of the leaders, and feel like the outcome has already been decided.

6. SUPPORT Without a doubt, employees going through change processes need support. While external support such as employee assistance programmes are important, this is a time to also think about internal support networks. Talking to a colleague who knows the organisation and understands what an employee is going through can be very powerful. Networks can also help build resilience and help address change fatigue.

CONCLUSION In this day and age, change is inevitable. HR has the opportunity to front foot that by educating leaders on the processes that need to be followed, ensuring policies and processes are established ahead of time, and making sure creating a good employee experience through change is a priority. If done well, the employee experience can in fact be enhanced during a period of change—and the impact on the organisation can be positive and long lasting.

SAMANTHA GADD is managing director and JENNY WILLIAMS (right) is client director at Humankind.

The Challenge of Change  

Humankind were recently featured in the Masy 2018 edition of Employment Today. Here, they discuss the challenge of change in the work place...

The Challenge of Change  

Humankind were recently featured in the Masy 2018 edition of Employment Today. Here, they discuss the challenge of change in the work place...