"Change is Your Opportunity for Growth"

The human response to the quickening changes in corporate life

No such thing as no-change

Change is the lifeblood of business, and will always drive it. Those who doubt this are either too fearful of their position to focus on the true picture, or they are lulled into believing in no-change because it is easier.

Even when we are not directly motivated to try and keep present arrangements unchanged, we are always tempted to glorify some imaginary Golden Age when everything stayed put. Analysis shows there is no such thing. It is pure escapism, whereas the job of corporate management to assert and manage everyday reality.

The management of change is now a major ongoing responsibility throughout government, industry and the professions.

How they’ll all take it

When any big change is announced at work, there will be almost as many different kinds of reaction as there are team-members. Your job is to handle these reactions in such a way as to keep the team together and performing, and in due course to perform better, thus validating the change.

It is to be expected that the older and longer-serving people may resent the change most. It disturbs the comfortable rut they’ve settled into. It may actually deprive them of specific rewards they were promised in exchange for long service. And being older, which usually means more conservative, they may simply be sceptical of the new system, and declare that no good will come of all this.

Another common reaction is apathy  -  a shrug of “so what?”, a suggestion that nothing really changes. It is possible to see this as a good stoical philosophy, a sign of the unflappable person who will survive anyhow. Or you could view it as the negative, cynical reflex of someone who is not really interested in what happens around him. In these cases, you need to try to establish which.

Thirdly, there are the ones who welcome the shake-up, either because it directly benefits their category, or because they are the sort of people who naturally embrace the new, and thrive on challenge. These are your allies in the new regime, and they should be encouraged to air their views to those who are feeling less positive about the future.

Grasping the nettle

The virtues of the big leap or the bold gamble as a necessary spur to success should be clearly emphasised. Simply there are times when an organisation has to grasp the nettle or go under.

Consider the late Paul Getty, once named as the world’s richest man. His huge success in the oil business came directly from grasping the nettle of change. Unlike many Americans, he saw that the future of oil did not lie in America. It lay many thousands of feet below distant, hostile, largely unknown places, where vastly expensive teams would have to work in hot, humid conditions, living away from their families for years on end, under dangerous regimes, and with no guarantee of striking oil anyway. While others tried to look away from this unwelcome prospect, Getty simply got on with assembling the unheard-of amount of investment and ploughed ahead.

The upshot was that those who dodged the unwelcome truth became irrelevant to the business, while Getty and his team became the aristocrats of oil.

Getting it into proportion

Negative reaction is sometimes a case of initial shock, which then begins to subside as people acclimatise to the new realities, and rediscover a role for themselves.

Listen out too for the words ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ when used of the changing systems. They are the surest sign of lazy thinking and false nostalgia. A redundant clerk will claim that it is ‘natural’ to have a room full of clerks, instead of the ‘unnatural’ computer which now performs those tasks. The effect is even more pronounced when senior posts are dissolved.

Where and how to focus support

Some people are simply never going to fit into the new system, and there is no intervention that will change this.

Others are already on-board and feeling positive about it. They do not need help, just normal encouragement.

You need to reserve your support for the ones in-between  -  probably quite a sizeable group. These are the ones who are undecided, and possibly at risk of being influenced by more negative opinions. One good way to start is to ask them straight-out “Tell us frankly where you think we’re going wrong?”. This concentrates their mind fully on the problem, perhaps for the first time, and forces them to identify the elements of the crisis in plain words. The ensuing debate may move some way towards a solution. Or it may reveal a grievance that you didn’t know about, and which might be resolved without much difficulty.

This group, with its confused mindset, is also the one most likely to be experiencing stress, and you should be willing to apply workplace stress diagnosis and management, possibly with the help of specialist professional counsellors. Among the likely symptoms may be unexpected mood changes, with increased irritability or anger, a general slide in standards, such as poor timekeeping or absenteeism, and lowered morale and negative comments about the situation in general.

A professional agenda for change-management

The handling of corporate change is a major test for those who have to plan it, supervise it, sell it, and come out on the other side with a team intact. It places great demands on your leadership qualities, your communications skills, your imagination, and your gift for making rapport with different human types.

Keep the following checklist in mind, as the basis of your change-management policy:

1.    Be the change

It was Gandhi who famously declared “We must be the change we want to see.” Now it’s up to you to symbolise the new system by your style and manner, and be a living, walking, breathing example of a bright future.

2.    Understand the effects

Prove you can empathise with your team in their envy, confusion, bitterness, vulnerability and fear. That’s your best starting-point in helping them to fight down these negative responses.

3.    Establish a culture of trust

Replace the ‘Us & Them’ mindset with a new spirit of ‘We’, and go on to build a culture of listening, debating and understanding, so removing one of the classic roots of conflict.

4.    Interpret dialogue

Study the various theories of conversation, which can be profoundly illogical. Develop an ear for those unspoken words that may reveal important clues to intractable problems.

5.    Reinforce corporate goals

Keep in mind the principal aims of the new changes in achieving corporate goals, and continue to assert these important strategies and the universal benefits they will yield.


About the Author

Carole’s credibility is rooted in 20 years success as CEO of a leading UK stress management consultancy, working with equal success both in the UK and the Gulf.  She is a world authority on corporate stress and BBC Guest Broadcaster.

Carole is an international motivational speaker, and a weekly columnist for prominent newspapers.  Carole’s new book ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available http://www.showstresswhosboss.co.uk where you will receive a signed copy of the book + FREE stress test card.  In UAE, you will find the book in all good bookshops.  Available on Amazon and in Kindle format.

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