Within every organization change is inevitable. It is needed to stay competitive in an ever changing world and economic landscape. Some people do not adjust well with change. Other people thrive on change.
Change often happens for some of the following reasons:
- Scaling up – organizational growth
- Scaling down – organization or financial bloat
- New processes – increasing the development pace of products and services
- Evolving a practice – new or existing areas maturing
- Economic issues – internal/external financial impacts (e.g. cutting costs, national inflation)
- New leadership – “out with the old in with the new” hiring and firing mentality
“Change is Permanent” said a bumper sticker. As time has passed I have learned how true that is. And, while there is a healthy way to conduct change, there is an equally insidious and unhealthy way to evoke change.
The Light Versus The Dark Side
On the light side, I remember years ago, when I was part of a challenging down-sizing effort. The organization I worked for had been growing steadily over several previous years. As part of the leadership team, I had been involved in much of the hiring process as we brought on new talent. One particular year, client projects took a dip. Typically, the end of the year was a busy time for us, as clients were planning for the new year ahead and spending their remaining budgets. At this particular time, many clients were scaling back and our income was taking a hit. As a leadership team, we decided no one was going to be laid off. The owner of the company decided he would not take salary for several months in order to make up for the deficit and allow the rest of the company to get paid. With the exception of the owners choice, we shared all this information with the staff. Our goal was to keep them in the loop and prevent any guessing or gossiping through the grapevine. Unfortunately, the subsequent year had some of the same issues as well as a national economic down-turn. This hit the company hard.
While at a leadership retreat, the owner shared the tough news that there were going to have to be lay offs. Myself and one of my peers were approached and told we were likely going to lose our jobs. While it was tough to hear this news, I had been in the loop and new changes had to be made. My role at the time was not adding significantly to the bottom-line as clients were tightening their financial belts. I knew my skills were marketable and that I would have no problem finding work.
During a staff meeting on the following week, I was able to share this information with the rest of the organization. Although many were saddened at my leaving, I had the chance to encourage them and answer any questions they had. There was no ill will between me and the organization as I had been in communication throughout the entire process.
Today, I am still in touch with the owner and many employees from the company. It was a healthy example of change management.
Contrast that experience with a more insidious example of change. I was reminded of this dark time while talking with a friend who had just gone through the same thing with her leadership.
On the dark side, I was in senior leadership with this organization when a new COO was brought onboard. Over the two to three weeks after he started, there were a series of small closed door meetings that me and my peers were not invited to attend. When I asked about what was going on, I was stonewalled and given vague platitudes that “everything was okay.” Yet, I noticed communication that had normally been flowing was now choked off to nothing. Finally, after four weeks I had my regular one-on-one meeting with my senior vice president. Little did I know the meeting would be anything but regular. When I entered his office, prepared to talk about recent efforts, I noticed another peer in the room.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Today is your last day,” I was told.
I was shocked.
Needless to say, my staff was shocked as well when I was escorted to my office and told to pack up. As you can imagine, my phone was burning up after I got home. Department directors were wondering what happened as they were trying to make heads and tails of the virtual bomb-blast. Their worlds had been rocked as they wondered if they were on the chopping block. Their teams were in a panic as well with all the unanswered questions. There was no communication. There was no preparation. There was a huge moral and productivity hit.
Later, I heard there were subsequent meetings that offered lame excuses for what happened. I also learned over the months that followed, that many left the organization and those who did not, felt micro-managed and fearful.
Change is going to happen–it is a constant. Change does not have to be hard, but we can make it hard. Don’t allow the dark side of change to impact your communication or lack thereof. Be real, up front, and honest with your team about the changes coming. In the end, you want people to be engaged and able to make (and help with) good decisions.
How have you seen change managed where you work? Has it been healthy? If so, how? If not, why not?
Let me know in the comments below.