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Helping people transition through change

In this video we explore ways that leaders and managers can support the journey through the transition phases of change.
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People may go through three phases as they move or transition through change. Reconciliation– the letting go of current ways of working and behaving, which can be a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Reorientation– exploring new ways of working and behaving aligned to what is changing. Recommitment– a time of acceptance and commitment to what is changing. While individuals may be in the Reconciliation phase, there are a number of things that could be done to lessen anxiety or uncertainty. Remind people of past successes. Ask people to recall when they did something in the past that was similar to the current change that was successful. What did they do? How did they achieve it?
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What did they learn from it that they could apply to the current change? Tap a core capability. Create a sense of familiarity by showing people how they can use their capabilities to implement the change. For instance, if an individual’s core capabilities are in communications, these skills can be critical when implementing change initiatives. Ask such individuals to take key roles in the change, such as drawing up and implementing a communications plan. Engage familiar and experienced people. Some organisations have brought back former and successful leaders to take over the reins during a transformation.
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You should also engage experienced people who already work in the organisation by involving them early in the change planning and asking them to take responsibility for part of the change. Use familiar language. Language has a powerful impact on how people perceive their world. So think carefully about the language you use when describing the change. Highlight what will not change. Point out what will not be different as well as what will. For instance, if employees will use the same skills to do their work or if they will remain in the same work unit or team, let them know.
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The Reorientation phase is a time of exploration and innovation, when staff who are optimistic about the proposed change will want to get involved and contribute their ideas about how to make it happen. It is also a time which can create confusion and resignation, impatience from people who want to get on with the change, and cynicism from those who are sceptical about what is happening and who want to know more about what is going to change and how. Let’s now think about some of the ways to manage this phase effectively. Keep people involved in making decisions about changes that will affect them. Keep people informed of ongoing changes. And also, even if there isn’t much new to report, say that.
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Use positive messages that appeal to logic and consistency. And also use multiple communication channels. Address any previous failures. Acknowledge mistakes. Apologise and make amends. Publicise successful changes. Use dialogue in order to see change from the employee’s perspective. Provide opportunities for employees to express their feelings about proposed change. We established a fortnightly communication as part of our change process. What was important about that was we communicated whether or not there was anything new to tell people. And it might appear odd to do that, but it’s important to say there’s nothing new because that avoids creating a vacuum where people will create rumours or come up with their idea of what is going to happen while there’s a gap.
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It’s also important to understand that different people engage with different modes of communication better. So you need to think about what are the ways in which your group of staff hear things best. And that will be different for different individuals. So we try and create layers of communication so that people can often read things in an email, have a document, have a conversation with someone. And all of those things together create the whole communication plan in terms of the different methods, and approaches, and opportunities that we create for people. And I think the other thing is to have a feedback loop.
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So how do you check in about whether or not people are understanding the messages in the way you’ve intended? Again, we tried different ways of doing that, whether it was formal or informal meetings where people could say what they felt or what questions they had about things. And we also had informal meetings. We would call them conversations in the copier because they were held next to the photocopier where people could just come together and have a conversation about, what does this mean? How is this going to affect me individually?
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I think it’s also important to think about the structure of messages and understand that if people are concerned about their jobs, that’s the first thing you need to address in the message because they’re not going to read anything else beyond that. So if you put the last bullet point as whether or not jobs are safe or at risk, that’s going to be lost in amongst all of the other things. And people won’t take account of the rest of the message. Engaging people in generating and implementing innovative solutions is also a key part of change. Innovation is the application of a new idea to initiate or improve a product, process, or service.
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By definition, it is about taking time to try something that offers uncertain payoffs at some time in the future. Innovation should be encouraged as a key part of any transformation.
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The Recommitted phase is the start of new beginnings and all the employees accepting the change and recommitting to the organisation. Employees’ commitment for organisational change is a key determinant of successful change initiatives.

You were introduced to the transitioning through change diagram during the last activity, where we touched on the three phases – reconciliation, reorientation and recommitment.

In this video, we explore ways that leaders and managers can support the journey through these phases and we’ll hear from Steven Paterson as to how he has supported this in his own organisation.

In the video, we see that in order to help people make sense of change and how it will affect them, individuals and teams need the opportunity to express how they feel. Sometimes a ‘lose, keep, gain grid’ is a useful way to facilitate this process, and you may find the handout (downloadable below) a useful resource.

Reflection point

Have you tried any of the approaches discussed in the video? If so, how did it go? Is there anything you would do differently?

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Leading and Managing People-Centred Change

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