What to do when staff has issues with changes

Change often creates fear

With the ever-growing need for more productivity, many organisations are constantly changing: processes, structures, and above all technology. This often increases fears among employees and sometimes anger. Some wonder whether they can cope with the newly introduced technology. Some fear that organisational changes may make them redundant. Some may be annoyed by the new processes and technical changes that “slow them down” and “make things too complicated” – not seeing the larger picture.

Fear can block and delay projects and increase costs significantly

This can cost the overall acceptance of e.g. a new CRM or ERP system or seriously block structural change. People sometimes refuse working with the new system and simply keep on using the old one, as is it may be still available. Or they complain with the worker’s council. All this will cost at least thousands, sometimes millions of pounds.

Human behaviour is key

The topic here is not the change itself, but human behaviour. Technology suppliers and project teams often simply under estimate the complexity of behavioural change. It is assumed that after an introduction of the changes staff will simply adapt to them. That if there were any issues, employees will raise them and discuss the openly with suppliers and project people. Wrong.

How to deal with it

It is human nature to protect oneself. Everyone, especially these days, wants to make sure they keep their job. Therefore, nobody wants to seem incompetent, and everybody wants to be seen as a team player, not criticising too much.

If issues with the changes should be reported to one’s superior, this will increase the problem, as any discussions about the changes or even criticising them would be part of the employee’s overall image in the superior’s eyes.

For many project managers and leaders this comes as a surprise. Even worse: in most cases they only learn at a rather late project stage about the planned changes being blocked. Many projects steps need to be repeated, often several times. This costs huge amount of time and often makes the budget explode.

All this can be avoided through targeted coaching on the project. The coach deals with fears and anger among employees, offering options to deal with the change and working with the member of staff to chose an option and put it into practice. The key here is that the coach needs to be competent in both organisational change (including processes, structures and job descriptions) and in behavioural change.

It certainly helps if the coach can demonstrate that she or he has been working in a similar position as the employee. If the coach is external and authorised by the management to guarantee anonymity and confidentiality, employees’ fear of opening up towards a superior’s actvitities can be reduced to almost zero. This can e.g. be achieved through a 360 degree feedback (more about that to come in further blog postings).

It is vital that the coach is allowed to treat employees’ concerns confidentially, providing a summarised feedback of the whole team to the superiors rather than individual opinions. When it comes to individual issues, an experienced coach knows how to point the superiors in the right direction without disclosing confidential matters.

That way, an experienced coach with diplomatic skills can resolve acceptance issues quite efficiently and quickly, saving the organisation significant time and money.

Jens Moeller Consulting Ltd.
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Jens Moeller