Spencer Johnson, the acclaimed author of the best-selling book Who Moved My Cheese, resonated with millions of people – if not everyone – who experiences change in one way or another. The book narrates the fictional story of two rats that wake up to find their source of livelihood is gone. The only cheese they have been feeding on has been moved. Although the two rats are both devastated in the same way, one goes in search of another cheese while the other sinks into denial and despair.
The two rats personify different kinds of individuals and how they cope with change. The only permanent thing is change; so the saying goes. Change at the workplace can come in many forms; new management, acquisition, downsizing, restructuring, transfers/relocations, demotion, and promotion, etc. Workplace changes affect us more because it is our source of livelihood and we spend most of our time at our stations.
But how can an organisation implement change smoothly and successfully without damaging employee morale and confidence?
Whole courses and Masters degrees have been dedicated to change. Change management has been a subject of discussion and debate since the 60’s and more so in the last decade as advances in technology has forced companies to re-adjust their modus operandi. Change management encompasses; the reason for the change, time span, personnel affected/involved, and implementation.
- Change is constant
We live in dynamic and vibrant times. Change is inevitable. At the back of our minds, we should always know that change is happening, with or without our perception. With this in mind, we are better prepared to manage change when it eventually comes. It is the work of Human Resource personnel to prepare employees to cope with change, and not just when change is being planned, but even when there is no imminent change. However, the responsibility of making and implementing major institutional changes falls on the CEO or MD, who then communicate the desired future to managers and then trickles down to the rest of the organisation.
- Buy in
When Kisii County in Kenya was planning to implement an automated system to collect fees from residents, the then Governor and his team had a three-month sensitization and awareness campaign that included roadshows and publicity material. By the time the system was going live, the county officers and residents had bought into the new way of collecting revenue. In a change context, the CEO needed to sell the vision to the managers, who will then sell it to the rest of the employees. Buy-in is important as the very change you want to implement can be sabotaged by the people who are supposed to implement the change.
The success or failure of a change process can often hinge on how communication is done. Breaking news to staff about an impending downsizing is never easy but the outcome can be managed if communication is done well in advance, in a timely manner, and continuously. Rumors spread fast so this should not be allowed to spread because it causes more harm to the company. Keep everyone updated on the most recent decisions directly or indirectly affecting staff. Articulating why the change is necessary and how the change will benefit the company should be an on-going endeavor, before, during, and after the planned changes.
- Avoiding knew-jerk changes
Several factors can bring about sudden changes in an organisation; intense competition, a sudden decline in profits, change in operating environments such as policies and laws. These are challenges organisations face every day but good managers either learn to foresee the impending changes and ride the wave or respond to changes by taking the challenge head-on.
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Cedar Africa Group is Prosci® primary partner in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda.