In our last blog post we discussed ‘How to Overcome Resistance to Change in Organizations‘. We all agree that the only constant in today’s workplace is change, and often it happens quickly before employees and management can mentally prepare themselves.
In today’s business environment, companies are forced to implement sweeping and drastic changes in an effort to grow and survive. A knowledge-based economy and global transformations require swift and clever adjustments. This environment presents new challenges and demands for everyone, from the board and CEO to the entry-level employees.
Change is and always has been an inevitable part of life. But for most people, the paths of change and adversity are difficult to traverse, especially in our kind of work setting where the challenges may abruptly alter the course of one’s career and lifestyle. Employees have a fear of losing their jobs or getting transferred to unfamiliar positions. Little control over workplace events triggers increased tension, uncertainty, anger, and other forms of job stress.
Underlying the physical workplace–and exerting a powerful influence on it–is an emotional playing field that I call “the workplace within.” Effectively managing the workplace within, means not fearing or resisting change and challenges, but empowering management and employees with the necessary skills to effectively manage life changes. Strategically preparing managers and employees catalyzes better organizational performance – regardless of what changes you might face.
The interplay among individuals, their responsibilities and the corporate culture drive a business’ viability. Effectively managing the workplace within can help reduce the counterproductive behaviour, improve the organization’s collaborative thinking, increase cooperation among colleagues, and enhance customer service – even in the midst of change and reorganization. Here are several strategies:
Prepare Managers – Company leadership must assist managers in understanding the emotional landscape of change and provide them with the tools to address issues. Who we are dictates how we perceive experiences, how we react to others, and how well we work together—and how we cope with change. Few companies offer managerial training in issues of change, leaving managers ill-prepared and as targets for blame.
“Name the Game” – I’ve observed firsthand numerous managers whose unexamined emotions have negatively affected whole workgroups and even acquisition deals. Make employees aware of how they express their emotions and how their communication, body language, speech and behavior impact the overall group. Admit up front that there may be a temporary increase in pressure or workload impacting employees and that the company is willing to work towards making a transition as acceptable as possible.
Communicate Early and Often – Rumors and innuendos, if allowed to propagate randomly, are extremely harmful. Keep everyone updated on the most recent decisions directly or indirectly affecting staff. This will make employees feel that they are a part of the process. With healthy communication, employees are motivated to remain with the company and often develop an even deeper bond during a time of change.
Acknowledge Emotions – An increased level of empathy and understanding is important and must be felt from the top down. People expect life to be easy and when it is not, they need assurances that employers are concerned and will do as much as possible to assist them during unsettling times.
Increase “Emotional Intelligence” Companywide – At the same time, making employees aware of their own feelings is just as important. Without a good grasp and understanding of our feelings, we often manifest anger in the form of counterproductive behaviour. Encourage employees to dissipate stress in a productive manner by doing more of the things they enjoy, like exercising, volunteering or spending time with family.
Perhaps most importantly, you will also want to help them understand that they ultimately have control over their lives and that allowing emotions to control decisions can be detrimental. As an investment banker, I once watched a deal unravel because the sellers were so emotional and volatile that the buyers simply lost confidence in their ability to manage the company going forward; they walked away from a deal that made every bit of sense “by the numbers.”
Even with a recovery underway, it’s unlikely that life in business–for organizations and for individuals–is going to get any easier. Change will be continual, confronting us in waves. Negotiating these changes and challenges effectively on the outside will require all of us to be effective managers of that other, hidden workplace–the workplace within.
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