In our latest Management Series article, we challenge you to take a closer look at your workplace, identify positive and negative change, and learn how to communicate through both to drive morale and motivation.
Change is something many people are not entirely comfortable with.
Whether planned or sudden, positive or negative, personal or professional, change — or just the threat it might occur — can cause people to feel insecure and uncertain.
Change in the workplace can be disruptive. It can result in a range of responses, from a lack of productivity, to decreasing morale, stress and even resentment.
Managing and communicating through change carefully can reduce negative responses and help you capitalise on opportunities for team growth and unity.
Do you know how to effectively communicate and manage change?
Change: capitalise vs collapse
When big business leaders consider hiring change communication managers, it’s usually because they are planning for a major change within their organisation; a restructure, an acquisition or a new software platform.
They have identified the risks that change can bring with it and they know only an expert can help them safely navigate those challenges.
But smaller or less structured changes, like prolonged market fluctuations or decline in real estate, are just as worthy of a strategic approach to change communication, so disruption can be minimised and productivity maintained.
Real estate is going through a tremendous change, or, to be more accurate, a number of changes.
In many places, the market has declined somewhat, revenue is slower and less certain, new technology is at play, distinct cut-price models are emerging and internal strategies should be changing to keep up.
Outside of these external changes, as always, offices are losing and gaining new employees, agencies are being bought and sold, and management is transitioning.
As a small business, hiring a change communication manager is likely not an option. But ignoring change, overlooking its impact on your people as individuals and a team, and simply ‘going with the flow’ is also not an option if you want to retain your best employees.
As a business leader, a manager or even just an influential team player, helping your team and business successfully navigate change is not always easy, but it is possible with a strategic and planned approach.
1. Have a plan. It can be that simple.
Whether we like it or not, our industry is facing a significant shift on various fronts. In response, you can choose to take a ‘business as usual’ approach and ignore what’s happening around you, but then you are simply inviting external changes to happen TO you and to your people.
To capitalise on these changes and minimise negative effects, start by researching what’s happening so you have a clear idea of best and worst-case scenario.
Based on your research, identify any significant risks to your business, and any opportunities, by completing a quick SWOT.
Finally, draw on this information to adjust your strategies or introduce new ones that will help minimise risks and maximise results.
When planning, don’t forget to think about structural and emotional needs. Will this affect how your employees feel? How will this affect their day-to-day jobs and their ability to do them without undue burden and stress?
Can you implement strategies to support emotional needs, and infrastructure (perhaps software, a new admin person, a better phone) to minimise negative impact, or to turn it around completely and make it positive?
This same approach can be applied to internal change. As an example, you might plan to open a second office and manage both locations, centralising admin and splitting your time between the two.
Identify risks, such as: employees at your first office feeling they may not have enough access to you, frustration at slower turnaround on approvals, upset admin staff who need to change location, or breaking up an established team. Work out what side-effects of change you might encounter, for instance, declining morale and productivity.
Finally, create a plan that illustrates how you will overcome all of these issues, such as introducing other communication techniques like an in-office social networking app, staggering hours to negate new commute traffic concerns, and making all approvals electronic.
2. Establish communication
Begin your open, honest and transparent communication by gathering your team together, sharing the change, sharing the risks and concerns you have identified, and letting them in on the plan you have developed.
This step is where the listening begins and becomes very important. Take feedback on your plan, get an understanding of any risks or concerns you missed, acknowledge them and commit to thinking about them and providing a response.
Unless simple, don’t respond immediately, take some time to think, as setting unreasonable expectations or throwing out a solution you can’t stick to later will add to insecurity.
Introduce new mechanisms for ongoing feedback, both group and one-to-one. Your team needs to feel they can talk to you about issues as they arise, rather than just venting to each other behind your back — this can have a toxic impact on culture!
Remember, you might think you are the most approachable leader in the world, but you don’t know what you don’t know, so identifying and promoting feedback opportunities emphasises your openness and willingness to listen.
3. Be honest
One of the most difficult aspects of communicating through change is always being honest. Sometimes things are happening and you are not sure how they will pan out.
It is tempting to try to reassure your team by always providing an answer when they ask questions, but one of the most dangerous things you can do is bluff or make something up.
If you don’t know, that’s perfectly ok, be honest, tell them you don’t know yet, tell them why, when you expect to know and then reassure them, drawing on that foundation of honesty and rawness you have created in steps one and two.
4. Communicate regularly
If the change you are experiencing is longer-term, like an obvious plan to sell up to someone else, you can’t just communicate once, you need to take employees with you on this journey by communicating regularly.
Don’t ever assume that because you tell one employee, everyone else knows too.
Your plan should include regular check ins and updates — the more you can keep people up-to-date, the more they feel they can trust you and feedback to you. Inclusion in the process, breeds a sense of security.
In a workplace, change can often have one of three results, depending on the nature of the transition: employees may divide in competition or upset against each other, they may unite against management and become angry and toxic, or they may unite as one group to carry out a set plan towards a shared goal.
Which one of these occurs is largely up to how you plan for the change and communicate through it.