Change in the Workplace by Helen Gough

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Charles Darwin famously said:

‘It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.’

In the modern world of business, change is inevitable. We are forced to implement change in order to keep up with the rest of the world. Change is imperative for businesses to grow and survive in a competitive market. However, it is a well-known fact that people resist change. This could be down to fear of the unknown, lack of understanding or lack of confidence. It is for these reasons that good management is crucial when implementing change. Business leaders must get on board and set the example in order to succeed. If employees see that their employers and managers are enthusiastic and positive about change, they are more likely to embrace the change and adapt to it.

Five key steps to managing change in the workplace:

1. Preparation

We have all heard the phrase: ‘Fail to prepare; prepare to fail.’ This couldn’t be truer than when implementing change in the workplace. The preparation stage cannot be underestimated. The further ahead you plan, the more time you will have to deal with issues that arise. Once you are ready and have a strategy in place, you will be able to sell your idea confidently and answer any questions thrown your way.

2. Communication

It is important that you communicate the proposed changes to those that it will affect, at the earliest opportunity. You want to avoid office rumours being spread based on incorrect information. This will simply add fuel to the fire. Staff must feel they are involved if they are going to successfully adapt to change. Ask for input from your staff, as often they will be the ones effecting the change and they may raise practical points that haven’t been considered by senior management.

3. Implement

It is important that changes are implemented gradually, in bite-sized pieces so as not to overwhelm staff with too much change in one go. Depending on the project, it may be an idea to phase the change by department, to avoid sending the whole office into a panic. It will help if you can use one department as an example to prove that the new system works efficiently and that any initial issues have been ironed out. You must, however, ensure that the process does not drag out, by setting suggested targets and deadlines in advance.

4. Monitor

Ongoing monitoring is crucial to ensure continued confidence in the project. Take the time to listen to staff concerns and suggestions and work together to come up with solutions. Many businesses have well-written, robust policies and procedure manuals, but unless they are actively followed, they are useless. This is a common problem which often comes down to lack of ongoing monitoring from management. As soon as the leaders become complacent and lack interest in a project, the staff will too.

5. Reflect

Once you are happy that the change has been implemented, it is working well and the envisaged outcomes have been achieved, it is a good idea to reflect on the process as a whole. Were the deadlines met or were they unrealistic? Has everyone adapted to the new systems? Do the staff feel comfortable and confident in the new processes?

Strategy is an ongoing process itself, so remember that it is fine to change your initial strategy plan. You should revisit your strategy at each of the stages above and tweak it as and when necessary. You will inevitably come across issues that had not been considered which will force you to reassess your plan. These changes should be seen as a positive step in the whole process, as it means that you are learning from the process.

Toyota has adopted the now widely recognised process of kaizen (the Japanese word for ‘improvement’) whereby they introduce very small but continual improvements which in turn results in huge overall improvement and productivity with very little disruption. They encourage individuals to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions. With a workforce of 360,000 employees implementing continuous change, they must be doing something right!