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6 steps to guide employees through organizational change

Develop a change management process or use an existing change management model to make the concept of organizational change easier for your employees

When you’re running a business, changes are inevitable. It’s important to be aware that you’ll need to adapt and have a change management strategy that will help you remain resilient. But the welfare of your business also includes your employees.

Unlike management or CEO-level workers, regular employees don’t have the same context you will have about the organizational changes you’re making and why they are necessary. So it’s common for there to be some anxieties, especially if the shift is something big like a company merger. It’s your (and possibly your HR team’s) job to address employee confusion in a calm, clear way.

Table of contents

1. What is organizational change?

2. How can you help employees understand organizational changes?

2.1. Create an action plan

2.2. Be as transparent as possible

2.3. Gather and use feedback

2.4. Use a change management model

2.5. Remind employees what won’t change

2.6. Provide consistent support

What is organizational change?

An organizational change that’s big enough to prompt employee anxiety isn’t as simple as switching to a new kind of lightbulb in the office. Instead, these changes are things like a shift in product focus, a new business model, or partnering with another company. Organizational change is something that reshapes the way your business functions.

The main reason that organizational change can be so startling for employees is that it indicates a shift in business culture. There are two categories of such changes:

  • Adaptive changes, which are small and incremental changes intended to address needs that have evolved over time
  • Transformational changes, which in contrast to adaptive changes, are large and sudden. These changes involve a shift in company strategy, mission, structure, or processes, often to bring the business closer to operational excellence.

More than likely, changes that prompt strong employee reactions will be transformational, since these are the changes with the least warning preceding them. It’s important that you communicate effectively with employees so that they don’t feel disconnected from the company they joined.

Additionally, your change management strategy is important for stakeholders. When potential business partners or investors observe that you have no change process in place and are not transitioning effectively, they’re less likely to want to work with you. Helping your employees adapt is a massive part of a successful organizational transition.

Manager communicating incoming organizational change to a group

How can you help employees understand organizational changes?

Before anything else, it’s important that you as the manager understand organizational change is not a negative thing. It’s necessary at a certain point in a business’s life to facilitate further growth. With that out of the way, what can you do to make sure employees understand and accept the organizational change?

1. Create an action plan

As much as possible, plan the change before it happens, for example by creating a project schedule. Make sure you have a good idea of how people’s roles might change and how broad the change will be. While mapping out the change process, list the steps required for the change to be implemented and the work involved during each step.

2. Be as transparent as possible

Organizational change is hard, and sometimes involves things your employees won’t be happy about. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to sugarcoat those things. Instead, be open about the impact your decisions and the way you are navigating change will have on each person at your company.

Don’t just be candid about the impact impending organizational change will have, be candid about the reasons for the change. You should be open to and actively ask for questions. Not only does honesty show respect for your employees, it allows you to frame the change as you understand it.

3. Gather and use feedback

Just like being open with employees increases their trust in you, incorporating their feedback helps them feel valuable to your change management plan. When employees feel listened to and see that developments in the workplace come from concerns they’ve expressed, they become more motivated.

Apart from that, your employees are the ones doing the work impacted by organizational change. So they’ll have insights you won’t about how long tasks take, how customers perceive certain things, and how to continuously improve daily processes . Regularly looking to them for feedback will lead to a smoother transition.

Employees gathered in a meeting room

4. Use a change management model

Organizational change is not a new issue; companies have been dealing with business transitions for decades. That means there have been several change management models developed to help guide businesses and their employees through the process of change.

Many change management models are designed to help businesses adjust to organizational change. For example, the most widely used plan is Kotter’s 8-step change process, which is geared towards your business as a whole.

But there are other models specifically intended to guide employees through organizational change, such as the ADKAR model, which posits that organizational change only succeeds with individuals on board.

ADKAR stands for:

  • Awareness: Making sure employees are aware that change is needed
  • Desire: Inspiring a desire for employees to participate in change
  • Knowledge: Ensuring employees have the knowledge of how to change
  • Ability: Giving employees the resources or training to execute desired tasks and behaviors
  • Reinforcement: Making sure to sustain the change over time

Two strengths of the ADKAR change management model are that it targets common issues employees have with transitions, and it is outcome-focused. That means managers can set concrete targets to evaluate how well the model is working.

5. Remind employees what won’t change

Emotional intelligence is essential for leaders. Acknowledging that your employees are human with natural concerns is necessary to develop a constructive approach.

One thing that helps employees cope with the uncertainty of change is seeing that not everything is changing. Certain things are integral to your business, like your overall purpose and values, and those will remain the same. Having a sense of consistency in some areas helps cope with changes to others.

6. Provide consistent support

Organizational change is a process, not an event. Implementing change is only part of your task. You also need to make sure that employees are adapting well and are able to thrive in the new business environment.

Look out for signs of stress, fatigue, or other struggles, hold regular one-on-one meetings with employees, and make it clear you’re there to help. There’s no standard length for organizational transitions, so it will depend on what your company is changing.

Managing organizational change is easier with a digital checklist app like Lumiform. When employees have new tasks or roles, you can communicate them easily through paperless checklists detailing all their responsibilities. And you can create custom checklists for anything, so you can also solicit employee feedback using checklists. Then, you can use that feedback to shape your change management strategy.

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