By: Heather Martin
Today’s employees are under more pressure than ever. At this exact moment, one is filing for bankruptcy, another is awaiting a bank approved short sale, and yet another is slowly watching as the bank encroaches upon ownership of their home. The fallout from the economic downturn is broad and varied, yet while many still search for viable job opportunities, there is a sector of the workforce that is facing the increasingly complex and volatile state of their financial affairs.
Simultaneously, corporations both small and large continue to drive policies they believe will contribute to the growth of their bottom line and their strategic goals. Often times, there is little consideration as to the weight on the shoulders of their workforce, or of the need for a diplomatic approach to change, now more than ever.
The recent years of drastic uncertainty have left much of the work force under a pressure that has not been felt in decades. Employees are challenged to adapt to drastic change, often transitioning from an experience of professional success to temporary financial failure. Without a true drive at corporate leadership, these valuable employees can become marginalized. Why? Because they are frustrated and demoralized and do not know how to adjust.
Every corporation can and should create a partnership with their employees, leading to more satisfied workers that produce more profit with an increase in loyalty. But this can only happen when corporate strategy has a healthy respect for the contribution of workers and understands that changes must be properly positioned and not forced down the workforces’ throat, so to speak. It is akin to parenting strategy wherein parents fall back on the authority of “I am the parent, that’s why.” However, corporate leaders have an opportunity to transform that dialogue to something more profound, something that will create a stronger relationship with the workforce that they have invested a large amount of time and money to develop.
John Wurch, President and CEO of JPW Consulting, has actively been engaged with multiple Fortune 500 organizations and their approach to change. John says, “Unfortunately, most of the organizations we work with are focused on project detail scope: time, cost, and quality. We rarely see project managers focused on how the change is impacting individuals, or concerned with what other projects might be impacting those same individuals and groups. Extensive research also shows that roughly 50% of project sponsors and senior leadership do not understand their own role in guiding their organization through change.”
“When multiple changes occur at an individual level, these changes can be confusing, frightening or even worse, seem threatening. As a result, the individual may begin to resist the change or even fight the change and can lose sight of any potential benefits. Additionally, external stress created by an uncertain job market and the rapid pace of technology changes have exacerbated employee fears and sense of stability: gone are the days of long periods of a steady state occasionally punctuated with change. Over time all of these changes can lead to change fatigue, where the employee is so tired of change, that they begin to withdraw and are neither resistant nor accepting. This diminishes their ability to perform well. Compounded, when a company hits change saturation they may experience organizational wide change fatigue, which will have a negative impact on the project’s success and the organization’s return on investment (ROI).”
Leadership focus on ROI is part of the challenge. Business is about revenue and profit, which is what makes change management so tricky. It can enhance long term revenue and profitability, but if strategic planning is viewed primarily as a policy matter, disregarding the psychological impact on the workforce, then a company may hinder ROI without realizing it.
As Mr. Wurch states, “Providing individuals with the knowledge and ability to successfully deal with the change is also crucial to success. These key elements will decrease confusion, reduce resistance, restore confidence, increase adoption and lift productivity, ultimately delivering ROI sooner.”
Over the past few years, the new norm for most companies is to do more with less. As a result, there is an increase in workflow automation through technhology such as cloud-based internet systems and video conferencing. The implementation of these changes can lead to a dramatic impact for the employees across a broad spectrum of areas including technology, process, policy, regulatory, infrastructure, or human resources. Furthermore, more than one change is likely going on at the same time, impacting more than one of these areas simultaneously.
Proper change management strategy is more important than ever. Without corporate guidance, clear communication, and an effective training plan, it is extremely difficult to overcome the impact all of these changes have on employees.
** Research provided by JPW Consulting referencing Prosci®, IDC, Fast track consulting and Lord Corp.