It’s no coincidence that the letters in the word “change” make up two-thirds of the letters in “challenge”. Change is an inevitable part of life. In fact, you’re changing right now. And if I’ve done my job well, by the end of this article, your thinking around change will have changed.
Every desire you have in life to achieve a goal – whether it’s acquiring new knowledge, running the London marathon or increasing your company’s profits by 15 percent, is based on a change from your current to a future state. So, if change has always been the natural order, why does it feel so challenging today?
Undoubtedly, it’s the scope, complexity and pace of the changing world around us. New regulatory requirements such as GDPR, “Open Banking” and MiFID II require fundamental changes to operational practices. Brexit will bring wholesale changes to the dynamics across trading, cultural and government relationships for the UK and EU Member States. The job market will undergo profound changes as the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) advances. Change has a bigger public profile than it’s ever had.
When it comes to managing the process of change, organisations have been found wanting primarily because of their failure to address the “human aspects”. Many technology transformation programmes focus 90 percent of their efforts on the implementation of a technical project plan. They neglect to consider the cultural barriers and management behaviours which may inhibit their success.
When embarking on organisational restructuring, some organisations still fail to do a sense check on the roles emerging out of new operating models. If you’re going to assign a role that used to be split across three people to one person, it would be advisable to first consider whether the level of effort is humanly feasible. And, when management teams finally agree on how to implement organisational change, they expect their staff to buy-in to the journey during a 30-minute town hall session when the team itself took over two months of daily debate to become fully engaged. As a starter for ten, a successful approach to change or transformation involves meeting your workforce’s psychological need to be engaged early on in the process and feel valued.
Crucially, our inability to manage change well is damaging our people’s health. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Organisational Change is the third largest cause of stress in the workplace, the top spot being occupied by Workload, with Management Style coming a close second. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) dubbing stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century”, there is a growing recognition of the dangers posed to employees’ physical and mental wellbeing by excessive stress at work.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is clear in its direction that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work. Its Management Standards specifically reference Change as a key area of work design that, if not properly managed, is associated with poor health, lower productivity and increased sickness absence rates.
However, organisations are currently failing on this front. According to the MIND Workplace Wellbeing Index 2016/2017, only 17 percent of organisations have a Change Management policy for managing organisation-wide change in a way that minimises detrimental impact to employees.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! There are some key steps you can take today to better prepare your people for change, support them along the journey and position them to take advantage of the opportunities it brings:
- Develop the Emotional Intelligence of your leaders so that they become more organisationally aware, empathetic and connected to your people. This will build trust and increase employee engagement during good times and periods of adversity and change within the organisation;
- Consider the potential impacts of Organisational Change on Workplace Wellbeing early in the process. Begin to identify practical options for mitigating the risks on your people as part of your change strategy;
- Build a culture of open dialogue around mental health so that staff feel comfortable in sharing how they feel, and managers feel well equipped to support them;
- Develop the personal resilience of staff working in change and transformation teams. It’s going to be a long road ahead, but if they have the mindset, emotional muscles and resources to help them overcome setbacks, learn from failure and adapt, your change programme has a far higher chance of succeeding!