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Is the organization changing? Communicate, communicate and communicate!

In the last couple of years, which organization hasn't been reshuffled? Tilted sideways? Trimmed down? Merged? Stripped? Rejuvenated? Taken over? Or showed exponential growth? Whatever you choose to call it, change in an organization always leads to unrest and anxiety. Resistance. Reactions that are to be expected, but for the staff and directors alike, some often difficult and ineffective reactions. However, these reactions need to be taken seriously. Talk about it. Because it is only when people feel heard and recognized, when there is understanding for their concerns, ideas and suggestions, that resistance can be transformed into trust and commitment. It is only then that change becomes success.

People do not jump for joy at organizational changes

Most people are not happy when reorganization takes place. There is much uncertainty, many questions and some confusion. Hence it isn't surprising that there is nearly always resistance to organizational change or a merger, no matter how pure the intentions of management are. The resistance is mainly fuelled by anxiety. And a lack of understanding. Anxiety about losing something valuable: colleagues, workspace or security. Anxiety about not being able to live up to the new standards. And a lack of understanding regarding the necessity of the change, the tempo or the manner in which the change is implemented.

"Resistance nearly always arises from anxiety and a lack of understanding"

How do you change a lack of understanding and anxiety into trust?

You can't change an organization with mere changes to the organizational structure and procedures. Managing change has become an integral process, attending to technology, the organization (structure), as well as the people. Because, irrespective of how necessary, well thought through, thoroughly considered and logical a change can appear in your eyes, the people are the ones who have to be onboard, as they will ultimately be the ones implementing the changes. Thus the important question: how do you get the staff onboard? How do you change their lack of understanding and anxiety into trust? How do you motivate them to behavior that is new and different? Good news: when people are convinced that something has to change, they tend to play along. Even apply themselves in the change. Because it affects their own values and beliefs. Thus that means: communicate, communicate, communicate.

But how do you do that?

  • Have a meeting with the people to understand where their resistance is coming from. Which of their values feel affected by the changes? That is often difficult to uncover, especially because people themselves are often not aware of what is really important to them. Thus take the time to establish the values of everyone involved.
  • Explain what the reasons may be for reorganization or merging. What it will deliver. And why you believe in it.
  • Answer the questions that your co-workers might have regarding the changes. Take their concerns seriously and address their fears.
  • Discuss the consequences of the changes and link the consequences to the values of the staff. What fits seamlessly, and what are the snags?
  • Be honest and do not promise things that you can't deliver.
  • Do not paint the situation rosier than what it actually is: in a transition there might be specific things that are uncertain, and often remain uncertain, whether you like that or not. Your co-workers are adults and they can deal with that. As long as they have the feeling that they are taken seriously and that you are telling the truth.
  • And last but not least: keep the organization's culture open to discussion.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Peter Drucker, one of the most notable management guru's in America, says it perfectly: you can have a brilliant strategy to change affairs, but if your plans are in contrast to the culture, nothing will change. Every organizational change - no matter how big or small - have an influence on the culture of the organization. New procedures, a take-over or merger: cultural change is inescapable. People have to go along with it. So talk to each other about questions such as: what are our traditions? What do we find valuable? What doesn't belong at our organization? How do we celebrate successes? How do we deal with change, challenges or mistakes? Who are our (anti)heroes and what are our driving forces? What would we like to keep and how do we do that?

Doing something new also means letting go of what was

Accept that changes do not only mean doing something new, but also that you are letting go of what was, the old and trusted. Pay attention to that fact and do not sweep it under the rug for fear of negativity. Pay tribute to what the 'old' organization has brought you and acknowledge that the changes will require some pain and effort. When people feel that they are being heard and noted, and that there is understanding for their ideas and suggestions, more trust and commitment develop. That is vital to the making a success of the change.

Do you have a question?