Managing Radical Change
The Closure - Handled Well
It was a good factory but it was to close in six months - for "strategic and policy reasons" and a new manager Alan, was appointed to manage the closure. Not many people envied him that task and fully expected him to have problems.
In the event the closure went smoothly and somehow, even in that situation, he managed to get the respect and support of all the staff. To the extent that on the day of the actual closure six months later, a group of them pulled him from a meeting and took him to the production line where they asked him to pack the last TV set ever to be made there. How did he achieve that?
The Restructuring - Handled Badly
Another case did not go so well. A national operation of local offices was being restructured and rationalised. The management team was divided about what the changes should be and how they should be introduced.
The attempted secrecy, the endless political debates and the in-fighting meant that no-one was really ever sure what had been agreed - rumours were chasing each other around the grapevine. When the redundancy notices were finally sent out, it was in the week before Christmas.
Staff were furious, not just with the restructuring but also with the "uncaring and incompetent" way it was being mismanaged. Productivity plummeted, paperwork misfiled or lost, customers mistreated or ignored. Company cars were "dumped" in the middle of the Yorkshire moors. It took a special project team six months to clear things up.
Four Key Points
These two cases, both from real life, illustrate four points. Not about the rights or wrongs of such decisions, but about the ensuing muddle in the middle and how it is best managed. They are:
- The costs & disruption can be horrendous.
- Its all about how we manage staff during the changes.
- In radical change, people react as individuals and need to be
managed as such.
- The Line Managers are the key to success.
1. The costs & disruption can be horrendous.
Often hidden, they are not all inevitable - most can be avoided.
In the first case were no problems with maintaining output, with customers remaining satisfied, or with the transfer of work to the sister factory. This was a direct result of the way it was managed.
In contrast, in the second case where the management did none of the above, they paid the price with severe costs, disruption, and dissatisfied customers.
2. Its all about how we manage staff during the changes.
If people feel that "management" is handling things badly and unfairly, donít expect them to feel too concerned about maintaining files and caring for their customers. If people feel that "management" is doing the best it can, they usually try to do their jobs in a professional manner.
Alan believed strongly that his job was not simply to close the factory but also to help all staff through the changes they personally faced, and he invested time and effort in doing that. He saw it not just as humanitarian, but as "good business" - he needed their support and help rather than a war. This is how he avoided the costs and disruption described above.
3. In radical change, people react as individuals & need to be managed as such.
When the changes are finally announced, their eyes will drop whilst they think about their own agendas - career, promotion, pensions, their new team leader, who they would be sitting next to, etc. That's the reality.
At this point traditional management tools (annual appraisals etc,) lose influence, they just donít seem so relevant to people. What people do want are things like:
- Be fair about it. Be honest.
- If you must do this to me, at least be organised and efficient about it.
- Be open with me and give me the information I need to sort out my future.
- And sometimes - listen to me, at least let me help you get it right this time.
The key step is to accept this, and formulate a strategy for achieving it.
Talking to Alan during this period, he clearly saw that faced with such a change, each person has their own concerns, aspirations, and agendas, and they are all different and personal. Some actually welcomed the closure and a new life/retirement. Some wanted to ensure a good job reference. Others needed advice, time and resources to find new jobs. Yet others simply wanted emotional support.
His approach was to be completely open, keeping them up-to-date with progress so that they could form and update their own personal plans.
4. The Line Managers are key
For staff in this situation, management is their line manager. The senior management cannot do it all, nor can the project team - they are too remote and just won't have the time. Their key task is to create the conditions that enable the above to happen. That means gaining the active support of the line managers.
In practice those line managers have a choice; to manage the changes actively or not. Some will be very active and positive whilst others will sit-back and simply respond to situations as they develop. It is up to senior management to find ways to influence that choice.
It is not easy but that's what Alan did. He got the whole management team and process to adapt to support the above. He asked his managers what help they needed, and then got them to do the same with their staff. He got them to be as open with their staff as he was with them. That's what didnít happen in the second case.
- Get the Management Team Organised
- Be organised and efficient - Project Manage the changes.
- Manage Productivity losses.
- Use the Line - if staff want to know something, they ask their
colleagues and their line manager.
- Help staff to have a view, a hook to hang things on - a view as
to where it is all leading, something that helps them make sense of
things. Unfortunately, memos and presentations don't help too much,
people need to "Talk and Think" about the changes.
- Don't be afraid to be Open - secrecy only encourages rumours,
- Involve People - Involvement works.