How to better manage your workforce during times of change

The old adage that “change is the only constant” certainly holds true in the workplace. Change can be technological, systemic or organizational. Whatever its form, some kind of change is inevitable.

“Leaders will always be faced with turnover, the implementation of new systems, reorganization and other changes to their environment,” says Tom Koloc, LPC, NCC, a senior account manager for LifeSolutions, an employee assistance program, which is part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. “What’s important is to know how to manage change and handle the transition.”

Smart Business spoke with Koloc about how change impacts employers and employees, and how to best manage it.

Is there a difference between change and transition?

William Bridges, who authored the book, ‘Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change,’ writes that change is situational and, to some extent, external to the people involved. Change is often sudden and abrupt and provides employees with little or no time to prepare. Some examples of workplace change would be changes in leadership or work rules, such as ones that govern overtime.

In contrast, transition can be slow. It’s the internal psychological process through which people gradually accept a new situation and the changes that come with it.

What is management’s role during the transition period?

The way leadership handles transitions can significantly impact the outcome. The first part of a transition period usually involves denial, shock and anger. The loss that employees feel can be both tangible and intangible. But in all cases, it is important for leaders to express empathy for what employees are going through and to be specific about any policy changes.

Generally, transition requires an understanding of and support for what the employees are experiencing.

What should leaders focus on?

It’s important to respect the past, and not be negative or ridicule the old ways of doing things. The change may be for the better, but employees have invested time, energy and emotion in the way things were done in the past and that needs to be respected.

Employees also need to be given details about changes, as well as an opportunity to ask questions. Employers need to embrace communication avenues because communication is one of the best ways to ease fears of the unknown. Regularly sharing updates when available is a good practice. Remember, when employees hear nothing, they are more apt to fill the void with rumors.

Above all, be visible during these periods. Leaders who interact with employees will raise their employees’ level of engagement.

How does a leader deal with skepticism?

Skepticism and ambivalence can change to hope and enthusiasm if leaders remember what Bridges calls the four Ps, which are:

  • Purpose: It is important to explain why changes are happening. Explaining the rationale behind change can help people get beyond their initial resistance.
  • Picture: By sharing a vision of what the new organization will look like and feel like, you can break down resistance.
  • Plan: Lay out a detailed step-by-step plan. A timeline can help keep people on task.
  • Part: Give employees a part to play in the new arrangement. With responsibility, employees gain a sense of ownership.

What else should employers know?

Managers and supervisors play an integral role in how effectively their staffs navigate workplace change. But a transition can be equally as challenging for leaders. Leaders must deal with their own reactions, while they successfully usher staff through a challenging experience or situation. Leaders need to know that taking care of themselves is not only good for them personally, but also sets a great example for employees.

A leader who can acknowledge a personal sense of loss or other honest reactions, while also demonstrating optimism moving forward, will be the most effective.

As always, communication is an essential part of any transition. And, don’t be afraid to reach out for resources, such as an employee assistance program.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan