Posted by: kenwbudd | March 22, 2010

Making Good Decisions in Managing Change

Don't be the Dunce!

We are all facing change in our lives and some would say it was always there but there is normal ongoing ‘change’ and sudden ‘traumatic change. This is the change involved in downsizing, layoffs and restricting employee benefits in a shrinking market and a very tight economy.

Traumatic change is difficult enough without mis-managing the change and adding insult to injury. When crises occur, managers need to be strong and be good leaders.

They need to know how to avoid the traps that make it harder to recover from. Here are 13 common mistakes and some guidelines for avoiding the downside of them.

1. Pressure to act quickly undermines values and culture.
Leaders take drastic steps quickly with no time to fully explore alternatives. Values about participation, involvement, or concern for people disappear. Cynicism and disloyalty grows.

Look to the long term and avoid the temptation to announce short term decisions for short term benefits. Allow employees the chance to be involved in problem solving and assign teams to tackle issues.

2. Management exercises too much control.
In crises, management can become insular and decisions get confined to the top. Top managers are micro-managing and rethinking everything. The people below become marginalised and passive. They lose motivation, cease to be innovative and become reactive. They simply wait around to be told what to do.

Keep the middle managers and workforce involved. Establish short-term tasks that empower employees to seek quick wins, giving them a feeling of responsibility and control over results.

3. Urgent tasks divert leaders’ attention from the mood of the organisation.
Managers are swamped with meetings and decisions. No one takes the view from the workforce or takes responsibility for assessing the impact on employees’ motivation and performance.

Appoint a representative or a team of natural leaders to monitor the culture, take the pulse of employees, and coach managers on an effective process.

4. Communication is haphazard, erratic and uneven.
The truth is sometimes the first victim of chaos. Things change quickly, leaders are distracted, and it’s not clear who has the most accurate or th elatest information. Potentially destructive rumours take on a life of their own.

Establish an interactive communications site to reach everyone with the same information in a timely fashion. Keep it going throughout and for some time after the worst of the crisis is over.

5. Uncertainty creates anxiety.
Most executives don’t like to be caught without an answer or be forced to say they “don’t know,” so they will normally wait until they do have an answer, before they talk to their people. Unfortunately, your people can’t take positive actions when they are hindered by anxiety.

Establish a middle-of-the-road process, when there is some uncertainty about decisions. Create a calendar of briefings so that people know when they’ll know. If you don’t have an answer yet, just say so.

6. Employees hear it from the media first.
In public profile comanies, aggressive journalists dig for information, and speculation and rumours can run in the media before employees hear about them. The worst case is when workers hear that their plant may be closing, on the radio while driving to work. Middle managers look ineffective and uninformed. Employees feel insulted and left out.

Manage any press interfacing very strongly and if possible keep them away from the staff. Develop networks of employee-leaders to connect an information chain as part of your communication plan.

7. There is no outlet for emotions.
Traumatic change can lead to strong feelings. Anger and grief can build up with no way to express or deal with these emotions. People can become dis-orientated and start acting in negative ways, undermining cooperation and positive teamwork.

Establish facilitated or managed sessions /workshops specifically for venting emotions. Teach managers about dealing with trauma and ensure that they acknowledge their own, and others, grief and anxiety.

8. Key stakeholders are neglected.
If executives are too busy internally, there is a risk that they fail to fully engage with other key stakeholders. It is a mistake if your key customers, dealers, suppliers, or local government officials hear about a crisis via an unsympathetic media or with a competitor’s negative slant. They can feel slighted, offended or simply get nervous about the depth of the crisis and withhold much-needed support.

Manage all your interfaces and relationships. Identify all groups that need to be to be involved in communications and talk to them regularly. Make it a part of your communications plan.

9. It seems easier to cut than redeploy.
Reducing budgets or people on a percetage basis or in equal proportion across the board, seems easier from an accountancy perspective than taking time to re-assign people or re-allocate valuable resources. Unfortunately, this is a weak or poor tactic, a knee-jerk reaction that ensures you loose strong performers which, with some more thought, could serve you well, elsewhere.

Establish a pool of strong performers from all the areas that are facing reductions. They will be able to help the business in a number of ways. They can be used as consultants or called back for special assignments to support the change and transition.

10. Casualties dominate attention.
Sometimes empathetic leaders want to do the humane thing by offering help to people who are being dismissed, while neglecting the the loyal employees that will be remaining and on whom their future depends. This lack of ‘care’ for resident staff can lead them to feel insecure, under-valued and they may either, become un-motivated or may decide to leave.

Cherish all staff and treat them all equally. Meet individually with remaining staff leaders. Remind them that they are the future and show your appreciation. Offer recognition for extra problem-solving efforts and collaboration during this stressful crisis period.

11. Changes are expedient, not strategic.
Managers often restructure by removing the weakest or newest people, without regard to true business needs. The unit continues to do what it has always done, in the same way but with fewer people. The opportunity for positive re-structuring in the face of change, is lost.

Identify a team and process to re-examine mission and priorities, to redirect activities toward more productive future uses.

12. Leaders lose credibility.
The shock of crisis, lurches in business strategy, and performance shortfalls can make some leaders’ appear less potent and their words less credible. If the staff do not believe in the new strategy, then it is doomed to fail.

Be aware of your image as a leader and make short-term, tangible, achievable promises, one’s you know you can keep. Your credibility is on the line.

13. Gloom and doom fill the air.
It is very easy for everyone to be preoccupied with the negatives in the current situation. They feel guilty about losing people. Morale can sink very low very quickly, and it is hard to find the energy to be creative or productive.

Focus on and show them the future beyond the crisis. Repeat the credible positive vision at every possible opportunity. Emphasise the steps being taken to avoid any re-occurrence of the present crisis. How we’ve grown, what we’ve learned and how things are going to change so it doesn’t happen again.

Winners and good leaders make their own luck. In the face of traumatic change, it is important to take the time to anticipate and avoid ‘unlucky’ mistakes. Better leadership in the face of change is difficult, but it will help everyone get through the crisis and secure a better future for everyone.

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