Organizational change, in addition to being ongoing and constant in the turbulence of the external environment today, is also a highly collective matter. You cannot change employees’ behavior and thinking as employees cannot change yours. But how then to be open both ways?

Sometimes you as a manager see the need for adding departments or maybe merging with another company to get a bigger market share. Employees then again sometimes articulate the need for managers to communicate better or stop micro-managing behaviors. Whatever the case is, if the wish comes from one part of the organization, then accomplishing the intended shift in behaviors is more than just crafting and disseminating messages or sharing thoughts in the anonymous feedback form. 

To understand what any planned modification in an organization will bring with it, it is necessary to get all the people involved. If you only plan to split a department and relocate them around a little, then what it really means is quite some tasks for the HR department in repositioning and perhaps even recruiting, but it also means that people in those departments need to reorganize their tasks, ways of cooperating, reporting etc and all the surrounding departments need to change their work processes to accommodate two instead of one department. 

So if you want your organization to switch back to smooth workflow faster, then planning and doing it together is the key. Then all these modifications in workflows – cooperation with others, communication within the department and getting used using a new coffee machine and new paths to the toilet or turning left in the office to talk to a colleague instead of right (yes, a lot changes when you relocate people and it does take brain capacity even if it feels minor) – will be more fluid and peaceful and you can yourself get back to your own tasks faster because your people are organizing it all themselves. Just because they know what and why they are doing not just going with the flow of unexpectancies. 

The flow of unexpectancies, I’m sure you have experienced that in your worklife, will create either confusion, alienation, rejection, conflicts, distrust towards the management or all of them, depending on the scale of what hits the fan for employees. Some simple points in mindset of the whole organization, that will help go through the change without this baggage, is to understand the collective nature of change and involve all your employees into discussing: 

  • openly what are you planning to change and why
  • what they see this will change for them, how they need to modify their thinking or behavior to implement that change, they know the best
  • listen carefully what your employees are saying and find hooks in the current way of thinking or doing that relates to what you plan, because it is much easier to do something that already fits with thoughts or some patterns of behavior than to start something completely new that has no relation to anything. I’m sure by listening these connections can be found and, with a coachive approach, your employees will find the hooks themselves. What a bliss!

And, yes, you are right, do it before implementing the change, not after, then it will be a much longer process, because you first need to deal with the confusion, alienation, rejection… You get the picture.  

And one last point. When your employees state that they want better communication from management in the annual feedback survey then before stating that “you already have intranet and newsletter and weekly meetings, what else do you need” or implementing yet another news forum, go and talk to them – what is that they really need and why, try to find hooks for your own current thinking and behavior, so that it would be easier to change for yourself as well. One cannot really start a running practice without first understanding why, feeling that it works and having the right shoes. 

These are the very first thoughts I am sharing from my years-long research. My goal is to bring the processual approach to change, that has taken ground in the scholarly world during the past few decades, closer to practice. The articles in Forbes during the past couple of years do show the mindset of ongoing change taking root also in practice but there is a lack of tools to implement that mindset.

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