As a consultant, I have seen organizational change around business downturns implemented in the same fashion over and over again – with very similar results. For the most part, it is done in a stealthy kind of way: lots of decisions made behind closed doors, sprung on employees at the last possible minute…then those very same employees are supposed to be okay with the change, and work even harder.
That is a recipe for failure. Not only does the change fall short of the intended results, it makes matters worse.
I’m no Harvard MBA, so I may not know the “right” answer…but I have seen the wrong answer often enough to know there must be a different way.
1. LET PEOPLE KNOW.
Don’t yell fire, but be honest when things aren’t looking so good. At least make sure stakeholders understand the urgency behind the change, or why drastic measures are necessary. Yes, some will want to abandon ship if things aren’t going well – but you don’t need those kinds of employees anyway; they’re not dedicated to your organization and probably aren’t really willing to put in the effort to make it successful.
2. ASK FOR HELP.
Once they know there’s a problem, see if anyone has a solution. Employees working in the trenches may have ideas and strategies to help weather the downturn and even become more effective, efficient, and profitable. Getting them involved in setting the company back on its feet may even help them feel more invested and committed.
It doesn’t mean that you have to tell everyone everything, but you do have to be forthright and honest about what’s happening and what will happen. As decisions are made and plans are formed, be clear with those involved about how they will be affected. Let them know what changes they can expect, and how they can help make those changes more effective. Doing this builds trust that will come in handy when it’s time to make sacrifices.
4. MAKE SOME SACRIFICES.
Whether that means declining a bonus for the upcoming year or some other visible action, demonstrate your own willingness to sacrifice for the organization’s success. When leaders show they’re able to tighten their belts, personally, it’s easier for employees to swallow their own bitter pills.
5. REWARD ANYONE THAT HELPS.
Employees that stick by the company through difficulty, and pitch in to get back in the black, should get a piece of the pie that’s left. Give back to those that make the effort to implement strategies that save the company, and they’ll keep coming up with company-saving ideas.
How does your organization “do” change? What’s the best way to ensure people own it and embrace it?
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.