Preparing Your Workforce for Change: A Strategy for Success

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By Brian Usher, Ph.D

The Challenge

In today’s tumultuous economy, companies are aggressively seeking ways to remain competitive – from reductions in force to radical restructuring. But, they often face a significant stumbling block. Quite simply, most organizations don’t know how to prepare their employees to handle these change initiatives. In fact, only 25% of respondents to a recent poll conducted by Right Management agreed that their workforce effectively responds to change. In contrast, 31% reported their workforce was not able to adapt to change, putting productivity and engagement at serious risk.  Forty-four percent reported that their workforce was coping with change, but that morale was suffering. This lack of planning and preparedness can undermine an organization’s ability to achieve the goals the change initiative was designed to produce.

Change Management That Works

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, companies that understand the inextricable connection between preparing employees to accept change and effective implementation of new initiatives are likely to see their efforts succeed. With careful planning and the support of top leaders, organizations can help their workforces adapt to change—and retain their competitive edge.

Putting in place a successful change management strategy is not an easy undertaking. It requires an integrated planning process that takes into consideration the following actions before, during and after the change initiative:

1) Understand previous change initiatives. To create an effective plan, you need to know what happened during earlier change initiatives.  That means working with leaders and employees to learn what worked, what didn’t, and gaps that need to be filled.

2) Involve top leadership. For best success, it’s imperative that senior leaders, including the CEO, are clearly behind the effort.  Indeed, leaders need to drive change throughout the organization.

3) Identify people who might be potential stumbling blocks or champions. Part of that process can involve using an assessment to help individuals understand their strengths and weaknesses.  Having this self insight can help individuals understand their reactions to change and help them to better cope with and respond to the change.

4) Map out a change process. Most important is pinpointing the key areas in which employees are likely to be affected – anything from a new performance management system to a re-organization of teams – and then putting in place appropriate initiatives to help them adapt to the changes.  You may also consider restructuring the reward system to reinforce certain behaviours.

5) Construct an effective communications system. You have to communicate your vision and plan convincingly throughout the organization. That means building it into everything you do, from your performance management system to regular intranet postings.

6) Provide adequate support and development for line managers to lead employees through the change. This may take the form of group or one-on-one interactions, depending on the circumstances. In some cases, it’s helpful to bring managers together, because the process of dealing with change can be an isolating experience. At the same time, managers should make sure to hold individual meetings with each team member.

7) Provide coaching for managers who still need help. Provide adequate support and development to managers to help drive change through the organization.  If they are unable to effectively communicate the vision and strategy and engage the team through the process, the change initiative will not succeed.

8) Measure success. Define success at the outset and the metrics to be used to assess whether you’ve achieved your goals and objectives.

Recommendations? An effective change management process can’t be an afterthought. Indeed, it requires a comprehensive effort involving all levels of the organization, driven by top management. By following the steps above, your organization’s workforce will have the agility needed to meet the high demands of the change initiative, performing at the levels you need to ensure the company remains competitive and achieves its strategic goals – even in today’s tough economy.


Brian Usher, Ph.D. is Vice President and Principal, Talent Management for Right Management. Dr. Usher is a leading Canadian expert on leadership assessment, succession planning, executive team building and talent redeployment. He can be reached at brian.usher@right.com.

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