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Leading Change in Uncertain Times

Leading change within an organisation at any time can be a difficult thing to manage, let alone implement and get results from, but it can be done. Leading change within an organisation during uncertain times, such as a downsizing or change of ownership, however, can be more difficult to achieve.

The trouble with implementing change during a period of instability is that there are two main aspects to negotiate and manage: the infrastructure of the organisation itself and the willingness and motivation of the people employed by it to effect said change through their actions.

  • The infrastructure of the company will be changing during any sort of upheaval, and the people involved at the top will be less inclined to make any further changes to the way things are done until things have settled down.
  • Similarly, people who might be uncertain about their roles (and whether they will actually have a role at the company in the near future) will not be in the right frame of mind to effectively assist in implementing any changes that are conceived at this time.

The key is to focus on the questions: “What are our core business objectives at this time, how can we achieve them and what does success look like?” If you have a clear plan for what the future of the company (or at least the department) should look like, then it is possible to implement and lead change during any time. This is the kind of test that showcases your skills as a leader and defines you in front of your team, so it’s an important one to pass.

Prove that change is the right step to take              

You would have to prove that change is beneficial to a company at any time you wanted to introduce it, so you have to work even harder on this if you’re trying to implement it during an uncertain time. The instinct for management will be to slam the brakes on and be extremely cautious about everything that the company does, with no room for innovation or change.

With this in mind, make sure that the benefits of change are so clear that it would be crazy not to try it (quantifying those benefits in figures that can be easily understood and assessed by those in charge) – if they can help with any negativity associated with the uncertainty, then so much the better.

Align changes to company objectives

Related to the previous point, aligning the changes you’re planning as closely as possible to the company objectives both in the present and in the future (insofar as you can guess those – things may not stay the same for long) will help with both management and employees. If management can see that the changes are aligned to the company’s objectives, they are more likely to greenlight them, and they will cause the minimum amount of disruption to everyone else.

Paying attention to objective alignment will also make everyone more receptive to potential changes in the future.

Focus on core talent and invest/cut where e it counts

Once you’ve had the go-ahead for the changes to take place, you need to concentrate on managing talent through them, something which is extremely important in times of uncertainty. How else are you going to ensure continued business success than by hanging onto your most talented people?

Investment funds might be hard to come by at this time, but if an opportunity to hire another asset arises, take it. They will be able to come in and adapt immediately to the changes being implemented as they won’t have any idea about how things used to work at the company, and immediately offset any key staff losses you may incur during this period.

If you have to cut any staff to save costs, look at it as an opportunity to prune the low performers from the team so that it’s as strong as it can be. Judge it on talent, and not who the most people like!

Be transparent

Your core talent may be in the dark about what is going on with the company and how these changes are going to affect them. This will breed negativity and disengagement at a time when you need everyone firing on all cylinders. Be transparent about everything that’s going on with the company and the new changes with them and maximise your chances of keeping hold of them at a time when they might be thinking about jumping ship.

Avoid disruption

Above all, you want to ensure that a quick change is not overly disruptive to employees so that they can continue to focus on their normal tasks and not worry about new processes or ways of working.

Human dynamics are incredibly important with any type of change – it is people, rather than processes, which will ultimately affect the final outcome, so it is in your interest to ensure that they are disrupted as little as possible. Fixing goals at the beginning of the process will help – this way they know what to expect. This consideration towards them will also positively affect their engagement and relationship with the company, thus securing them further as talented assets.