When I started consulting to businesses over 25 years ago, no matter how small a business, a restructure of the way a business conducted business took place about every 6 years on average.
In a 2018 survey of Small and Medium Enterprises, a restructure every 3 years was more typical. In fact in some industries, some restructure process happens every year.
Since these restructuring processes can incorporate anything from changes to business units to changes in procedures to specific performance improvement projects, they can affect every person in a business. This is incredibly challenging for employees in every sector.
The challenge creates tension because employees set themselves into a threat response. They feel shock, anger, fear and this may cause them to respond negatively. Even if they respond positively, the state of uncertainty means that a significant proportion of their minds are in protection mode rather than at higher levels of learning.
Business owners who are trying to implement change are in fact dealing with these different responses, and from people with different temperaments.
Here are some ways to support teams going through these restructuring changes.
Regular updates are critical.
Often the owner gets busy implementing the change at exactly the time when people are most fearful. You need to build this in and ensure that you leave aside time for team discussions, bulletins, and clear communication about what happens next and results and outcomes so far.
I have seen business owners tell people about the changes using acronyms and language that most people did not understand.
Use language that people understand. Use language that you would normally use in any situation – don’t bring in “the big guns” to describe simple processes. Don’t talk about “turnaround initiatives” when you can talk to them about the need to improve profit.
One of the outcomes on employees having change imposed on them is the feeling of loss of control.
Create opportunities for your employees to provide ideas and contribute to how the change is to occur or is to be structured. This gives them control back and creates a feeling that the change is something they have also signed into. They then feel accountable in making the change work.
Accept (and Expect) Differences
Not everyone will react the same way to change. Not everyone will see it as positive nor as negative, and not everyone will deliver to the same amount.
Expect this to happen and accept it happening. Don’t rant and rave at “a few stragglers”, instead provide different communications channels with outliers and allow the different reactions to work toward a common goal.
SCARF stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. To your employees, these represent survival issues. They are concerned about how their status will change, about how much certainty there is in their workplace, about their level of autonomy, about how they relate to others, and about whether what is happening is fair.
Recognise these needs and build in compensation for these needs in any restructuring. For example, if teams are to be split up, provide other forms of relatedness, by physically locating them in one location.
At times of stress, people need rest. Ensure your employees prioritise sleep and rest, encourage exercise and short breaks, allow a reduction of any overtime and ensure people leave on time.