Change can be one of the most difficult elements of people management, but it's important to take a proactive approach.
Experiencing any form of change can be a significant challenge for a company, its finances and its employees. Whether going through a merger, having a shift in leadership, or completely changing direction, it can be a difficult time for everyone involved in the business.
However, there are ways HR can help everyone to overcome various challenges that are a result of significant change in a business.
1. Change is part of success
It's natural for employees to panic when they hear their company is undergoing any significant change, even if it's positive. For example, if the business is growing at a substantial rate, current staff may wonder whether they'll have the same opportunities as previously, or if their job will change, or if there will even be a place for them at the newly-expanded firm.
Help them to understand that change is an important element of success and, whether good or bad, it is something that every company will experience at some point. Make sure you are clear on the business's vision for the future and how it will be achieved.
2. Empathize with employees
It may sound self-obsessed, but employees will automatically wonder how the change will affect them personally. Although many will care about how it affects the company as a whole, what's far more important to staff is how it will impact their day-to-day job.
As HR, it's your job to understand that this will be the primary concern of everyone working for the business and communicate what you can to try and answer their questions.
3. Communication is key
Whether it's between managers and higher level directors or from HR to employees, good communication channels are a vital part of any successful transition. Make sure everyone is getting regular updates on how the company is progressing and what you expect to happen next. This will help to encourage greater transparency in your organization, but also prevent professionals from panicking and jumping ship.
4. Embrace the "change cycle"
The change cycle will be experienced by everyone, albeit at different paces, but you need to understand each stage to be able to provide support. You can set your own timetables for when you want each professional to be onboard and completely tuned into the plans for the future, but people will progress in their own time. This is something you can't force and need to be prepared for, if you want to keep morale high.
5. Prepare what you know
Regardless of how insignificant it may seem, focus on the parts that are certain and prepare as much as you can for these. Although you may only have small bits of information at the start of the process, putting whatever preparations you can in place will help the entire company adjust further down the line. For example, the change may mean you're moving offices, so start sorting out the various implications of this as soon as you can.
6. Don't lie or make false promises
During a time of change, people need to be able to trust in what you're saying, so don't make any false promises or bend the truth. You might be doing it to make them feel better, but in the long run it will just backfire on your department and the company as a whole. Instead, focus on what you do know and how the business plans to proceed in the future.
7. Call out naysayers
Negative feelings can spread like wildfire, especially when people are worried about the future. This means you need to clamp down on any employees who are vocally despondent or critical of the change.
Work closely with management teams to identify people who may be struggling the most and use one-to-one meetings to talk to them about their concerns. If people are being negative in front of others though, make sure you address their worries as thoroughly as you can, even if it's just saying 'we don't know just yet' or 'there's a plan in place for that scenario, but we don't know if we'll need it'.
8. Ensure consistency
It's important that employees are getting the same message from their manager, HR and the company's C-level executives, so make sure you're communicating with each other about what the current position is. Allowing some people to know news before another can lead to rumors that could cause more concern and jeopardize the trust between you and employees.
9. Expect a few bumps in the road
No change can happen without a few problems arising along the way, so be prepared to deal with them. Employees may not need to know about all of them, but it's important that they understand that the process may take longer than expected, and why.
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