Change is an inevitable part of any organisation’s development, growth and longevity—and a restructure is one of the most significant changes an organisation can undertake. Any change, and in particular a restructure, can be an uncertain, and stressful time for employees.
To ensure the process runs well, that those impacted by the changes understand the rationale, and feel like they have the opportunity to be heard throughout the consultation process, it is absolutely crucial to manage the change well, with purpose. We’ve all heard stories of the fallout from restructures and other big changes, when managed poorly.
If you are facing a big organisational change, I recommend taking time to think deeply about how the employees affected may react. Personally, I find the Kubler-Ross change curve model to be a really powerful tool in explaining the different emotional stages people may go through, when experiencing change. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to identify what is needed to best support employees and managers through the change process, and tailor your communication plans and activities to suit. It can be a bit of a dry topic—and I’ve been desperately searching for a way to spice up this content, but alas, we’ll have to settle with what I believe is essential, if dense—information! I believe you’ll find it insightful, and useful when facing your next change process.
Stage 1: Shock, denial
Stage one is characterised by feelings of shock, denial, disbelief and resistance to the change. During this period employees may struggle to accept the change and may deny that it’s happening or that it will have any impact on them. To support and manage employees through stage one, it is important to:
- Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Let them know that it’s okay to feel this way, and empathise with them regarding the feelings they’re experiencing, and the process they are going through.
- Provide clear and consistent communication. Stick to the key messaging. Be clear about the proposal and any potential impacts and make sure you have all of the facts available to hand. Don’t make it more challenging for employees by changing or diluting the messaging to try and ‘be nice’ - a lack of clarity is neither nice nor helpful.
- Be patient and provide support. Recognising the change curve can help you to be prepared for these situations and to understand that some employees may simply need time to adjust and come to terms with the change.
This first stage can be particularly challenging in scenarios where you’re running a restructure impacting multiple levels of the organisation, and you need to engage an impacted manager to help communicate the messaging to their direct reports. Factor in this stage of the change curve into your process timelines, and make sure you provide sufficient time and support for the manager to process these impacts. Be prepared to step in to run some of this process yourself, if needed.
Stage 2: Anger, fear
Stage two is characterised by feelings of anger and fear. Employees may become frustrated, irritable, or resentful as they begin to think through and comprehend the possible impacts of these proposed changes on their work, and lives. To best support and manage employees through stage two it is important to:
- Actively listen. Set aside ample time to listen to employees’ concerns, and to address them as best as you can. In change situations, people need to feel heard and understood, and when they are, it may help to alleviate some of their fear and anxieties. Remember, the focus should be on the employee and their experience, not on how hard you are finding this process to manage.
- Provide support and resources. It’s not unusual for some employees to need additional support to work through the change curve, for example, counselling. Consider in advance what support you can provide, be clear about what support is available and how to access it.
- Communicate effectively. For the same reasons outlined for stage one, I can’t stress enough the importance of clear and consistent communication.
This phase of the change process is often the most disruptive. This is the point at which it’s most important to provide lots of support to your employees, so that they are able to process and move through to the next stage.
Stage 3: Acceptance
Stage three is characterised by feelings of letting go, and acceptance. Employees recognise that the changes are happening, and their mindset shifts towards considering ‘what’s next?’ for themselves. To best support and manage employees through this process it is important to:
- Offer training and opportunities. As acceptance grows, you may find it valuable to support this new reality by offering opportunities for employees to develop new skills, and take on new responsibilities. This can help keep employees engaged and motivated as they adapt to the changes.
- Foster a positive team culture. Do everything you can to create a positive work environment, encouraging teamwork, collaboration, and great communication. Galvanise employees to support and build each other up. This will enhance engagement, and drive momentum out the back of the changes.
- Be available. Continue to provide frequent and clear communication. As employees navigate this phase, they will often have more questions while they seek to better understand and process the follow-on impacts of the changes to themselves, their teams and their key stakeholders within the business.
Stage 4: Commitment
Stage four is characterised by employees demonstrating they are able to embrace and adapt to the changes. This is the stage where organisations can start to rebuild, and focus more on the future, embedding the changes. To best support and manage employees through this process it is important to:
- Celebrate achievements and contributions. Recognising and celebrating success, reminding employees of the progress that has been made and the positive impact the change is having on the organisation, is hugely meaningful. Doing so works to reinforce the benefits of the changes, and will provide subtle reassurance for any future changes, demonstrating that ‘this organisation implements change for the right reasons, with good rationale, and to achieve positive results’.
- Clearly communicate. Provide extensive messaging through multiple channels to reinforce progress and success. People want to know that the intended outcomes of the changes are being achieved, and that the change curve they’ve experienced has been ‘worth it’.
This is the stage where you start to see the benefits of implemented organisational changes. It is important during this phase to be clear on what is needed to embed these changes in the organisation and to continue to provide clear and consistent communication (...have you noticed that good communication is a major theme yet?!).
No matter the size of the project, all change can be unsettling and scary. Some people are more well-versed, adaptable, and resilient to change, whilst others may require a lot of additional support. Both experiences are valid, and can be managed successfully.
We hope you’ve found this useful in reflecting on the emotion change impacts your employees may go through, and how you might best manage and support them with these changes. As always, our team of Consultants are available should you have questions, or need support on this topic.