I am in leadership development and talent management for a global manufacturing firm. A reorganization initiative will take place early in the second quarter of this year, causing some redundancies and a reduction in personnel. We know this change will bring a lot of anxiety and we’re trying to put some resources in place to help people understand and prepare for what’s going to happen.
Very specific parts of the business will be affected, which will create stress across the organization. Most of the resources I’ve seen are framed around managing a crisis. But we don’t view this reorganization as a crisis—we see it as part of our cost reduction and growth story.
How do we help leaders support their teams in this challenging time? How can we still retain our best talent and keep them engaged and focused on our long-term objectives?
It would be great to have your perspective on this topic.
Managing the Reorg
Dear Managing the Reorg,
You are right—if you can help people feel that a reorganization is simply a normal part of business life, everyone will be better off. And, ultimately, the more information you can share with people, the better.
In our change model (you can find an e-book on the topic here), the first stage of concern is Information Concerns. Managers can often handle most of these concerns in groups, which can be a time saver.
People with Information Concerns want to know:
- What’s really going on?
- What’s wrong with the way things are now?
- What do we hope to accomplish?
- Why now?
- What opportunity will I have to raise questions and voice my concerns?
- How do people I respect feel about this change?
The next stage, which is often overlooked or given short shrift, is Personal Concerns. Managers might perceive employees at this stage to be overly self-absorbed or even whiny, so the urge to avoid conversations is strong; however, people may need a safe forum to share difficult emotions such as fear or guilt. Managers may also be tempted to avoid tackling personal concerns because they may not have answers to all the questions being asked. If that’s the case, they should tell the truth and commit to brainstorming and design thinking sessions to figure things out.
It can be a challenge to surface these concerns in group settings, so time-starved managers will need to schedule additional one-on-one conversations. This is an excellent investment of time early in the process, because addressing personal concerns early and well will prevent unpleasant surprises down the road. Allowing people to express their feelings generally diffuses their fears.
People with Personal Concerns want to know:
- How will the change impact me personally?
- Will I win or lose?
- Will my workload increase?
- How will my relationships be impacted?
- Will I be able to figure out how to get things done in a new way?
- How do I find the extra time I will need?
Our CHRO, Kristen Costello, invented a novel approach to ensuring that we retain our best people. It is called the Triple R Conversation. It is a powerful, focused, and detailed take on a stay conversation. The three Rs stand for Reflect, Reconnect, and Revisit. This conversation requires that manager and employee have a trusting relationship.
The employee is asked to prepare by reflecting on why they have stayed, how invested they are in the mission of the organization, what they enjoy most about their job, and what their biggest challenges are. In the conversation, the manager gets more detail about the person’s career goals and their hopes and dreams. The manager also shares ideas and plans that might be considered. They continue to show an interest in the person’s growth and evolution after the meeting. It is critical that the manager not make promises they aren’t certain they can keep—that will do more harm than good.
For more detail and some excellent questions, read this article: Take a “Triple R” Approach to Stay Interviews by Kristen Brookins Costello. The best time to start having these kinds of conversations is right now. They create an outstanding foundation that will serve to help everyone weather any storm that might be coming.
One thing I have observed over years of working with senior leaders managing change is that by the time the change is announced, they have been thinking about it and discussing it with their peers for so long that they are bored with the whole thing. It is easy to forget how disconcerting it was—and the sheer volume of adrenaline that was released—when they first heard about the change. It is easy to forget that they have had a chance to process their own concerns for months, and just because they are over it and ready to move on doesn’t mean others are. This is especially true for leaders who are not only accustomed to a lot of change but who thrive on change. It can be hard for them to remember that most of their employees are not like them at all.
To sum it up, here are some do’s and don’ts for change conversations:
- Share as much information as they can
- Stay positive about the reasons for the change
- Draw attention to the mission of the business and how the change will help fulfill that mission
- Trust that any employees who leave the organization will get proper support and will most likely find comparable work in other companies
- Listen for the stages of concern from the employee, reflect back what they hear, and give the person a chance to experience emotions without judging
- Answer questions when they can and commit to finding answers or coming up with an answer as a team when they can’t
- Remember that many individuals can become very alarmed in the face of change, even if the reasons for the change make sense to them
- Express empathy for how hard change can be for some people
- Prioritize group and one-on-one conversations about the change
- Show an interest in each individual who reports to them and demonstrate a willingness to help each person grow and develop by asking thoughtful questions
Managers must not:
- Allow their workload or their attitude about the tedium of change management to interfere with helping everyone understand the details and implications for the change
- Reveal negative opinions about the change – their own or other leaders
- Blame or demonize any one person or group of people for requiring the change
- Cast doubt on decisions that have been made
- Overdramatize the situation by using language that casts people who still have jobs as lucky or those who don’t as doomed
- Try to get away with superficial check-ins; e.g., asking someone how they are doing and not really paying attention to the response
- Show impatience with how much time some people need to process
- Judge voicing concerns to be naysaying or a challenge to the change
- Give in to the impulse to tell people to get on with it—people will come around at different speeds and pushing will only spark resistance
Just as we were all getting used to living in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous), now we are tasked with operating in a BANI world (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, and Incomprehensible). If this language is new for you, or intriguing, you might like: What BANI Really Means. As a student of history, I would submit that the BANI moments are more a part of our common experience than we believe. We are all just muddling through, grappling with the human condition.
The best things a leader can do to take care of their people during a change are pay attention, listen a lot, reassure when they can, and be kind.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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