Jan 22, 2014

Managing organizational change: keeping the right people in the loop

When organizations make a decision to reorganize or restructure the way they work, it usually starts with strategic organizational goals: Improving flow of information, adapting to a changing marketplace, change in organizational priorities, and so on. Most of the thinking tends to be around organizational units of like teams or departments, and how they connect and relate to one another.

When it comes to the individuals - Organizations tend to put a lot of attention on the top leadership and management level. However, a lot of the energy related to most other employees is directed toward more bureaucratic and mundane tasks like headcount calculations, or who would report to whom in which team. In many cases, companies neglect to invest enough energy (if at all) in the thing that makes everything tick - THE PEOPLE.

M. C. Escher,  Sky & Water I, woodcut,  1938

Ideally, the organization should make the effort to engage every single one of its members, and involve them before, during, and after the process. At the minimum - get their thoughts and feedback at the end of the process so you know where they stand. However, there are not always sufficient resources or time for this. In this these cases, it is important to prioritize who to talk to, and when. Even when you do have resources to involve everyone, the order of engaging the organization's members might matter. Specifically, there are two tiers that leadership and change-drivers should consider and address:

1) The future leaders 
Leadership has usually already identified those individuals who would assume key roles in the future, at both team and organizational levels. Companies usually spend significant resources to find and nurture its future leaders for the near term as well as for medium and longer terms. Organizations make efforts to ensure sure these people are happy and will remain in the company. In times of organizational changes, the importance of communicating the process and status to the future leaders might sometime be overlooked due to the chaos of change.

Such periods of organizational change could be confusing times for everyone, and key people might not feel secure enough. They might start looking for alternative roles that seem more stable. It is critical to keep lines of communication open and give sufficient attention to those individuals. Especially in times of organizational challenge and instability, companies need to address the tier of future leadership. Make sure they understand what is going on, and why. What the goals of the specific change are. The drivers of change and organizational leaders would be wise to reassure the future leaders. It is good to listen to their thoughts and goals. It is especially important listen and respond to their concerns, before they turn into fears. 

2) The social hubs

Every network of people is characterized by a few central people, not necessarily in terms of their role but in the sense of the way that they are perceived by others. These are the people who are well connected with others within the organization. They are the ones that everyone goes to for advice, or to chat with when there's gossip, because they always know first when things are happening. Office admins could be an example for people who are well networked across the organization, and know what's happening above as well as underneath the surface.

These central people are crucial in situations of change, as they basically control the tone of information that flows informally within the organization. It could be wise to identify those social hubs, and popular/vocal members of the organization, and bring those central people on board. It could even be as simple as communicating the current process and the rationale behind it to them. Making them involved partners could help spread the right message across the organization. Even when the plan is to talk with every employee in person, this process takes time. Starting with those central employees could help spread the positive change throughout the organization until the individual conversations are complete. 

Planning the communication messaging as well as the order in which to communicate organizational changes is an important component of the change management strategy. This grows in importance for larger organizations or more radical changes. It is especially important for change processes that cannot be accomplished swiftly but stretch over a period of time - like the merging of business units or acquisition related integrations. 

Formal channels and hierarchies of communications are not enough - we also have to consider the informal and interpersonal channels of communication that might affect the organization just as much as the formal channels, if not more. Successful implementation of the internal communication strategy can help mitigate risks, reduce fears and resistance, and increase confidence in the organization and its leaders.

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