The Rosner Group

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Organizations are changing at such a rapid rate today that its often difficult for people to catch up. While a redesign of a distribution center, a change in a computer system, or a layoff of 60 people may seem to take place overnight, our reaction to the change takes time and is often expressed in different ways.

Many executives and managers know these changes are needed to keep their businesses afloat and competitive, but they often express their frustration about their employees' resistance to the changes. In fact, people are not so much resisting the changes as they are responding to a loss of the way things used to be. For each person, the loss -- or perceived loss -- is different.

For instance, in one organization in which supervisors were being asked to serve more as coaches and coordinators than supervisors, productivity and morale fell significantly. Looking into the problem, it was discovered that the supervisors thought that in their role as coaches, they had lost power and position in the system. Moreover, they believed that their role as trainers (something they enjoyed doing) was no longer part of their jobs.

These perceived losses, once they were brought into the open, were talked about. In these discussions, it was made clear by the manager that the training function was never intended to be deleted from the coaching position; it was just never communicated well what was changing and what wasn't.

It was also realized that the coach/coordinator role was potentially more powerful than the role of supervisor. As coordinators of a number of team efforts, the former supervisors would now have knowledge of what was going on in many different areas of the company. This would put them in a more powerful position than they had been in before.
One of the things a manager can do to head off a problem like this one is to conduct, a "loss analysis" with the individual or group undergoing a change. This means finding out what people perceive will be lost during the change, be it resources, power, relationships, promotions, or jobs. Once this has been assessed, you can then determine which of these things can be compensated for, and which can't.

Another thing a manager might do -- especially if there are whole groups undergoing a change -- is to ask each group the following questions:

  • What has ended?
  • Is there anything you'd like to add back from those things you've lost or that have ended?

What generally happens in this kind of discussion is that people realize the need to change to increase productivity and competitiveness. At the same time, managers learn more about what motivates their employees.

What's most important in dealing with the people side of change is that communication of this sort is ongoing. You need to be extremely clear in your messages and listen carefully to what your people are saying.

Reprinted with permission from Inside Business by Judith Rosner

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