Managing people through change

Many business owners worry about having to persuade employees to accept new ways of doing business. But many employees welcome change if they understand the reasons and the implications, and are involved in the process. A good change management process can improve your business while retaining your key employees.

There are many reasons why you might decide to implement changes in your business. You may need to adapt to changes in the market, or you may have identified ways to improve your business's products, services or performance.

Change can be very stressful for your employees, but it can also be exciting and rewarding. How you manage the process will play a big role in how the change affects your employees.

Plan your change process

Having a plan that clearly identifies and describes the changes you want to make, will:

  • help you support your employees through the change
  • save you time and effort once the process is underway.

As you work your way through the planning process, make sure you're considering your staff. Keep in mind that they need to:

  • understand the change and the reasons for the change
  • be included and involved in the change process
  • be ready for the change
  • have the skills to deal with the change
  • be supported through the change.

Step-by-step change planning

This page focuses on how you can help your staff adapt to the change process. To help you plan the overall change process for your business, you can follow the step-by-step guidelines outlined on our page on adapting and changing your business:

Step 1 – Prepare your business for change

Step 2 – Understand how to change

Step 3 – Manage change

Step 4 – Make change happen

Plan your communication during the change process

As part of preparing your team for change during your broader change-management process, also develop a communication-specific plan. Address the following priorities in your communication plan.

Your team members have close knowledge of your systems and processes and may have valuable suggestions. Ask their input:

  • about decisions that affect them
  • where you can take their opinions into account.

It's a good idea to:

  • involve them early in the change management process
  • establish clear points for discussion and input
  • set realistic expectations about where they can provide input
  • use a formal consultation process. Schedule a series of conversations to get their input on specific aspects of the change.

Engaging employees in the change management process will help to reduce their level of stress and resistance toward change activities.

Employees will be much more likely to support the change process if they're clear on how the process will work and about how they'll benefit from it. Develop a set of key messages to help your employees understand the:

  • need for change
  • process
  • benefits.

You could, for example, communicate these messages through:

  • change-planning sessions
  • morning-tea information sessions
  • a regular newsletter with updates on the change process
  • a wall chart that explains stages and milestones.

Your leadership team will play an important role in how your employees react to change processes. It's important that they're able to effectively communicate the change management process.

Leadership participation and support at all levels can:

  • keep your employees informed
  • identify problems and concerns
  • address these issues and talk through concerns with affected employees.

In change situations, your team members may want certainty more than they want to be directly involved. Avoid secrets or surprises wherever possible. Be specific, open and honest about your decisions and what influenced them.

If you can't implement your employees' suggestions:

  • let them know
  • tell them why
  • give them as much clear and accurate information you can.

Once you know what the impact of the change will be and who will be affected:

  • schedule regular discussions with these employees
  • consistently follow up to see how they are dealing with the change.

Tips for managing staff through change

These tips can help engage your employees in your change management process.

Remember that your employees may place a lot of value on their role in your business. Their jobs may contribute greatly to their:

  • financial security
  • identity and sense of purpose
  • self-confidence.

Changes that affect their role may have big professional, personal and emotional impacts. If the change is significant, they may have to work through a sense of loss.

There are many things you can do to make the change process easier.

Gather a team of employees who can help you identify staff attitudes and concerns.

Select people who:

  • together have good knowledge of your business across all sections
  • have a broad range of skills
  • are good communicators and well respected by their colleagues
  • support the change.

Break down the stages of the change management process into smaller steps that are easy for employees to follow and understand.

Following the process and knowing which stage of the process they are in, will help employees feel more engaged, confident and secure.

Ask your management team, team leaders and project team to identify any attitudes that could negatively affect the change management process. If you identify employees who have negative feelings about the change process:

  • decide on a constructive, solution-focused approach
  • meet with them directly and work through their concerns.

Investing time and resources in your employees before and during a change management process will help to ensure a more successful outcome. Change training can help:

  • your employees understand the change processes
  • leaders and managers understand their role in the change process
  • identify challenges
  • develop strategies.

You can:

  • build a work environment that values continuous learning and improvement
  • arrange training and information sessions
  • use mentors and coaches to work with your employees to help them adapt to the change.

Understanding the reason for the change will help you and your employees stay focused on what needs to be done. You can:

  • regularly repeat your 'reason for change' messages
  • link these messages to each stage of the change management process.

Change often means someone is losing something. Through the change process, your employees may lose:

  • familiar processes, workplaces and premises
  • long-standing supplier or customer relationships
  • elements of their role that give them confidence and security.

Remember that change affects everybody differently. People react differently to change, and some employees might take longer to accept the change.

You can help your employees adapt by:

  • assessing the impacts of change early, so you can be prepared and respond effectively
  • providing opportunities for them to share their feelings about the change
  • scheduling one-on-one meetings for them with the most appropriate members of your management team
  • making counselling available to help employees work through their emotional response.

You can build a positive environment for change by:

  • always looking for ways to improve your business processes and performance
  • inviting your employees to share their ideas and observations for improvement
  • organising ways to capture and recognise employee input
  • celebrating your shared successes.

This can help your employees recognise change as a positive force that is essential for continuous improvement.

It is important that you, as a leader:

  • consider and understand how change affects your employees and how they may react to change
  • use your messaging and communication to try to align your employees with the change
  • are confident about the change process
  • stay consistent about your reasons for change and in your key messages about the change process
  • stay true to your goals and communicate them with confidence.

Celebrate successes and milestones in the change management process. You could, for example, organise morning tea or a lunch event to:

  • thank your employees for their input
  • review achievements to date
  • discuss the next steps.

Retaining key employees through change

One of the biggest risks during a change process, is losing valuable employees. The employees who make the greatest contribution to your business are:

  • usually heavily invested in their role and your business operation
  • often the most likely to leave if your change process is not well managed.

Losing key employees can:

  • decrease productivity and interrupt business continuity
  • require time, effort, and money to recruit and train new employees
  • put your business at risk.

Identify your key employees

Your business needs a balanced range of skills and knowledge to run effectively. Consider your workforce planning and ask yourself what skills, knowledge and abilities will be important moving forward.

Identify employees in your business who work effectively and have the skills and expertise that your business will need in the future.

Consider tailored incentives to retain key employees

Once you've identified the employees who'll play an important role in your business's future, work with your management team to identify the needs, interests and aspirations of these employees.

Consider offering incentives that are aligned to their needs and career goals. Incentives don't have to be financial—they simply need to be well matched to your business and your employees' needs. Be creative. Examples of incentives include:

Acknowledging employees and their needs will help to show your commitment to supporting and retaining them through the change process.

Identify low-priority or surplus skills

Through the change management process, you may identify skills or roles in your organisation that don't match your future needs. Your options include:

  • transferring, retraining or redeploying affected employees
  • considering redundancies.

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