There is an old adage: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I’m confident most companies experiencing organizational change strategized a grand plan of growth and success (or survival). They took the time to gather big brains to discuss profit/loss, opportunity, what the future holds and how to move the company forward. So why do so many companies experience issues regarding change management? Why isn’t everyone in the company jumping for joy and thankful for all the hard work and sleepless nights?
It’s not due to lack of planning. It’s because the planning phase left out one essential big brain — communications. When employees can’t see the “planning,” they aren’t able to acclimate and tend to feel helpless. Think about it. When you feel helpless, your instinct is to be cautious, protect yourself, and in some cases remove yourself from the situation.
Work with your communications’ team to focus efforts on your internal communications — before, during and after organizational change. Employees need to understand “why” change is occurring and what is expected of them after the change.
A study1 of over 1500 public and privately held business who experienced performance transitions, were asked to rate the outcome of the transition on a scale ranging from completely successful to completely unsuccessful. They were also asked to rate the mood in the organization during the change transformation.
The top 4 moods for “Completely Unsuccessful” organizational change were:
- 51% Anxiety
- 43% Confusion
- 44% Frustration
- 34% Fatigue
The top 4 moods for “Completely Successful” organizational change were:
- 44% Anxiety
- 55% Sense of Focus
- 51% Enthusiasm
- 47% Feeling of momentum
When Organizational Change Fails
There are two sides to every change and each one needs to be addressed: rational and emotional.
- Rational is usually visible, it’s what you know and what you do, your knowledge and skills.
- Emotional is usually invisible or not deliberately conveyed, it’s how you feel, how you are motivated.
Change is personal, even in an organizational context. The emotional components of change must be addressed if you ultimately want to motivate your team. Studies reveal the emotions to drastic change follow a similar cycle as does the emotions to death.2 When reality settles in, executive teams are often puzzled by the emotional responses to the change and disappointed by the delays and drops in performance.
Change, Change Management
When emotional levels are driven into chaos due to change, the worst solution is a complex one. Resist the urge to set up enormous plans and complex methods, keep communications simple and clear. Understand, when people are no longer able to change a situation, they are challenged to change themselves. Most are not ready for that challenge.
Create an internal communications plan that will help your employees adapt and find a way to plant themselves in this new landscape.
A few considerations:
- Account for the time it takes to adapt to change
- Be prepared for a drop in performance during the cycle of change
- Open lines of communication directly to the executive team
- Reinforce your brand promise, what employees can expect from the company and what the company expects from them
- Reinforce what is the “same,” help employees appreciate what they have today
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the changes (good or bad), if you avoid these conversations all you’re doing is promoting toxic “water cooler” conversations
- Clearly state what is different and what the vision for the future holds
Also, read Greg Norton’s blog series on Marketing as a Culture!
1Source: McKinsey&Company, 2006
2Source: Reply Management Consulting, 2010