October 9, 2017 9:00:04 AM EDT

The Human Cost of Change

Organizational Effectiveness

The Human Cost of Change

Your people are your greatest asset.

While the prospect of change can seem daunting, in business it is unavoidable. Systems need updating, strategies need adaptation and processes need improvement. However, the greatest challenge leaders face when dealing with change is the management of the people they employ.

One reason for this is the incredible variety of people who work in large organizations. We all know that diversity of age, gender, background, and experience make business better, but this same diversity comes with the unique challenge of communication. How do you successfully and effectively convey your message to all of your employees?

Take the age question, for example. With Baby Boomers approaching retirement, Generation X taking the lead, Millennials moving up, and Generation Z on the horizon, the dynamics of the front line can have many different facets just from this point of view alone.

The traditional approach to change management classically begins with structure and policies, but at Aspirant, we believe there is a fundamental first step that is all too often omitted: it is critical to start any change initiative with human capital in mind first.

Understanding human values

Your personal values, your organizational values and the values of your people define who you are, how you connect with your community and what matters most to you. Value analysis helps you to connect your people to your vision. That doesn’t mean that everybody in your company will share the same values – that would be unreasonable and frankly impossible to ask. The real art is to understand what drives each individual, and find ways to connect their motivations with the end goals of the company for the mutual benefit of all.

Understanding human emotion

Resistance to change is such a well-known phenomenon, but often dismissed as general negativity or disgruntled employees. However, it is important to remember that when we are asking people to change their normal way of doing things, we are taking them out of their comfort zone, and the emotional response to that is often underestimated and misunderstood.

Change can instigate a cascade of negative feelings, including a sense of identity loss, fear of redundancy or inadequacy, and fear of social loss. ('Who are my new colleagues going to be? Who will I report to? Where will I be located? What financial impact will it have?')

As a leader, it is your responsibility to create an environment where your staff feel free to discuss their concerns and feel safe doing so. After all, no reorganization or change in procedure or policies will provide the outcomes you are looking for, unless your people totally understand the purpose of the change and their role in it.

Appreciating the importance of communication

Communicating the what, why, who, how and when are critical to successful transformation. All too often in large organizations, decisions are taken at the top. The trickle-down of that information to the front line level is often either extremely slow or completely missed.

Leaders may fear information overload, but in cases such as these, they should not shy away from reaching out to all levels of their organization. If your people don’t know or understand what’s going on, the frustration they experience may prevent them from being able to work effectively towards the company’s goal, or may even lead them to seek other opportunities. The important thing to remember is that you must always share the same message – the language may change, based on your audience, but consistency is absolutely key.

Cementing your messaging

Communicating an effective and consistent message cannot happen until you and your team have decided what that message is. Who are you as an organization? Why do you exist? What is your great purpose or vision? What are your values? What exactly are you offering to your customer? How is the change at hand going to impact the current and future goals of the organization?

These can be hard questions to answer, and answering them may at first seem unnecessary or redundant. Be assured however, that this analysis will help you connect your people to your great purpose. Belief in your company’s goals is what ultimately will push your employees to go the extra mile for you.

Optimizing the external environment

Every good leader is aware of the external factors that help or hinder their organization’s progress. These may be financial, regulatory, governmental, or environmental. Knowing the size of the impact of these factors, particularly in relation to human capital, is vital. For example, how motivating or demotivating is the current economical climate? Address these issues successfully, and you’ll create a workplace in which your people will feel safe and also empowered to do the job they love.

It starts and ends with people

Ultimately, however good your technology, processes or systems may be, in the end, human effort and commitment are required to make your vision a reality. The concept of human capital applies as much to change management as any other aspect of business, and while the issues surrounding it may seem insubstantial at first, the benefits that come from tackling them could mean the difference between failure and success. Get it right, and the dream of a smooth transition could truly become your reality.

Connect with Aspirant Organizational Effectiveness

Judy partners with executives and leadership teams to engage and inspire employees in a way that delivers sustainable strategic results. She brings deep expertise and creative ideas to solve organizational effectiveness issues and closely collaborates in a way that builds internal capabilities. Judy has spent over 25 years consulting in a variety of industries, bringing her expertise in behavior to a wide range of organizational issues including organizational behavior change, leadership, change management, culture and engagement.

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