Leading Successful People-Focused Change

Disasters are costly, disruptive events that result in severe damage to the economy, the environment, property, and death. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and pandemics are clear examples of disruptive events. In less than a year, the COVID-19 global pandemic caused widespread loss of lives, damage to the economy due to business closures, supply chain disruptions, and soaring US unemployment rates. As companies grapple with these challenges and the impact on business operations and profitability, senior leaders are making the difficult decision to change direction. If this happens, it will be important to develop a clearly defined, people-focused change management plan to enable successful implementation and execution of the planned change initiative.

Many companies such as Boeing, AT&T, GE, American & United Airlines, Schlumberger have already announced plans for corporate restructuring and layoffs due to decreased business volumes and huge losses in profitability. While corporate restructures and layoffs are often required to ensure business continuity and survival, the change management plan should focus on both the business and people aspects of the change so that leaders may effectively lead their teams through the change process.

Why This Matters?

In the best of times, it can be difficult for some people to accept and transition to change, whether personal or in the workplace. People respond to change in different ways. While some people may embrace change, others fear it. Change brings a great deal of uncertainty and disrupts regular routines and schedules and can result in worry and anxiety. Since many employees are already reeling from the shift to remote work environments, bought on by a global pandemic, effectively managing people-focused change initiatives could not be a more vital role for leaders.

In a Forbes Leadership IQ study on the impact of layoffs on remaining employees, participants report a 74% decline in their productivity after a corporate layoff. In the same study, 69% of participants said that product quality suffered after layoffs. With so much at stake, leaders at all levels must remain actively focused on their employees throughout the change transition, especially since many employees are now working remotely. Leaders should be accessible, listen, ensure understanding, and promptly respond to employee’s questions and concerns as they adjust to the change. Leaders should also provide meaningful information and support to remaining employees to maintain focus, engagement, motivation, and productivity during change. Although formal face-to-face meetings are not possible due to COVID-19, leaders should utilize available technology to remain visible to team members. A leader’s people-focused actions are essential to minimize uncertainty, build (or rebuild) employee trust, and minimize the loss of critical talents.

Leading Successful People-Focused Change

Since ultimately, it is the people who make change happen within the organization and ensure success, leading change with a people-focus is essential. Too often, change initiatives and planning focus mainly on the business side of change with limited focus on the people side of change. Poorly managed change can result in unnecessary uncertainty for employees and negatively impact morale, the company culture, and brand. In some cases, a leader may find it difficult to support a change initiative and may need their leader’s support to provide the renewed focus and direction they need to lead teams through change successfully. If this happens, take the necessary steps to support your leader.

Carefully plan communication of corporate restructures and layoffs. Before implementing the planned change, develop a detailed communication plan. When communicating information about the change, meet with directly impacted employees to discuss the change, including how the change impacts their roles, in private meetings, before delivering department, company-wide and external communications. So that remaining employees are not left in the dark or feel that they have to resort to the ‘rumor mill’ for information about the change, communication on the status of the change should be ongoing throughout the process to prevent undue stress and anxiety to employees. For more information on developing an effective communication plan, read the blog post by Tim Creasey, Chief Innovation Officer, and a globally recognized change management leader at Prosci, Inc. Is Your Communications Plan “Telling” or “Communicating”?

Change is inevitable in business and life if we are to evolve, grow, and achieve our goals. People-focused leadership helps leaders successfully lead through the unpredictable waves of the change process. This quote by William Arthur Ward provides a fitting close to this article and reads, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” I could not agree more! Whether faced with a change in business or life, resolve to adjust your sails and stay on course for success! Contact us for help to successfully plan and prepare your leaders to lead people-focused change successfully. Our expert team will help you keep your business on course in these challenging and unprecedented times!

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