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Cannings Purple | The 268 | Death, taxes and change

Change is certain, but it doesn’t have to be painful

The saying is that nothing in life is certain, except for death and taxes – but Caroline Thomson thinks the idiom is missing one major life certainty: change.

In the boom and bust state of WA, you can guarantee the next big change is just around the corner. And as the pace of business continues to increase, so does the pace of change.

So for companies looking to get the most out of their workforce, it can be hard to maintain productivity and performance when many employees feel like the ground is always moving beneath their feet.

While there are countless change management models out there, these basic foundations are the ones I think contribute most a smooth transition and help an organisation emerge stronger on the other side.

  1. Invest in your culture.

It is widely accepted in business that organisational culture directly affects a company’s bottom line. But by its nature, change disrupts culture and many companies lose the hearts and minds of their people as they implement necessary changes. Creating and maintaining a positive culture is a complex challenge any time, and more so in an environment of change, but it will pay dividends in spades.

  1. Remember good planning goes a long way.

It’s not enough to simply have initiatives focused on creating or maintaining the culture you want. You must also have a hole-proof plan and airtight systems in place to help you manage the roll-out of the change so you can respond to problems as they arise. All the progress you make through employee programs can be undone by poor coordination, lack of follow-through and inadequate communication. Which brings me to my next point…

  1. Be committed to open communication.

The most common mistake I’ve seen made during periods of major corporate change has been an inability or unwillingness to provide meaningful, targeted and timely communication to employees. Perhaps the only thing people dislike more than change is uncertainty, so by holding back information during change, organisations prolong employees’ discomfort. It’s a bit like pulling a Band-Aid off hair by hair, making it a long and painful process.

  1. Seek out some positives.

Integral to the communication task is the identification and articulation of the all-important WIIFM message: What’s In It For Me? This is more about understanding the psychology behind how people cope with change, rather than a cynical marketing exercise. Change is necessary, and while the transition is often uncomfortable, if employees understand that the change will have benefits for them, they will be better able to cope with it, and might just embrace it.

  1. Show visible leadership.

None of the significant challenges above can be achieved successfully without a strong and accessible leader.  Your leaders need to be the voice for communication, to demonstrate the desired culture, endorse the plan and ‘sell’ the change to employees. And this includes management at CEO level right down to team leaders. If this means training your leadership team up to ensure they can manage the change prior to rolling it out, so be it.

There is no denying change is hard, especially in the current economic climate when budget pressures add to the challenge. But the question should not be “can we afford a change management process to manage the shift” but “can we afford not to”. The impact of poorly executed change can echo for years, whereas a workforce that has been treated well throughout the transition will repay a company with loyalty, productivity and performance.