Getting Team Involvement in Process Change

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If you've worked in the corporate world for any length of time, you've probably experienced a merger or acquisition somewhere along the way. Personally, I've gone through five in 15 years (which may have been a contributing factor to starting my own business). Each time I've been bothered by the overlooked opportunities and communication snafu's that have resulted in poor morale and decreased productivity. But does that really matter? After all, the company isn’t permanently damaged - gradually morale improves and the productivity gets back on track. So what's the problem?

To get more insight and allow you to make the decision yourself, I'd like to share with you "A Tale of Two Companies". The names have been changed to protect the innocent (and prevent being sued). So let’s just think of them as "Yin" and "Yang". For this example, product and company size aren't relevant; instead, I’d like to focus on their people and communication practices. Neither company is bad; just different in philosophy and practice.

 

The Yin Company The Yang Company

 

 

The Situation
The Yin Company was acquired by Zygot. The companies had several similar functions so a merging of divisions was required which would result in loss of jobs. 
Here’s how they approached the change from a people perspective:
  • The CEO of Zygot came to The Yin Company to announce that nothing would change in the foreseeable future.
  • The management team met and determined which Sr. Management staff would remain in place for overlapping functions. The surviving Sr. Managers were informally notified.
  • No company communications announcing upcoming changes were issued.
  • All staff at The Yin Company were asked to complete a job assessment form.
  • The surviving Sr. Managers identified their management team. These decisions were communicated individually to the surviving managers.
  • Announcements of changes were sent to the company. Oops, some managers didn't get notified that they were being let go. And, uh-oh, some staff members weren't told who their new manager was.

The Result
Employees felt like they'd been lied to from the beginning. Key staff quickly found other jobs since they didn’t know if they were on the chopping block or not. There were bad feelings and loyalty issues that played out between the Zygot employees and the remaining Yin Company survivors for many years after the acquisition.

The Situation
The Yang Company ran up against hard times and had to cut costs. In addition to stopping several major projects, the Company must downsize.
Here's how they approached the change from a people perspective:
  • Once the difficulty was known, the CEO began communicating to others informally to increase awareness and encourage ideas.
  • The management team implemented several cost-cutting efforts to stave off the need for downsizing.
  • The CEO held a company-wide discussion to describe the difficulty, what had been done to-date to minimize the impact, other options that had been looked at and the probable need for downsizing.
  • All communications (verbal and print) were "from the heart" and encouraged free discussion and possible alternatives.
  • Several suggested alternatives were implemented and the savings results were communicated.
  • A layoff plan with deadlines was laid out and communicated.  Those who were in danger of termination knew it at least 1 month to 6 weeks in advance.

The Result 
Employees pitched in to prevent layoffs.  Some offered suggestions, others cut their pay or went without to extend cash flow (with the understanding they’d be paid later), some left the company to find a more stable situation. They felt involved and "in the know" about what was happening. And all employees, even those that left or were terminated, felt they had been told the truth.

 


I believe in the words of the ancient Chinese sage who said "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." So what can we do to ensure that our team (be it management team or project team) gets involved in, bought into and is fully supportive of process change?

  1. Speak the Truth. Always. Not just when it's convenient or easy.  Don't hold to the corporate line or attempt to stir up enthusiasm with a "it'll be all right in the morning" attitude. Tell them the hard truths. Allow them to grapple with uncertainties, potential pitfalls and impending disasters and make their own decisions. If you’re legally bound to confidentiality, tell them. Then follow up as soon as you’re legally able to. Change is not easy, but it's bearable if you know you can trust what you’re being told.
  2. Stay in Communication. You can never over communicate.  A known fact about we humans is that we don’t process all we read or hear, so repetition is not only advisable but necessary. Tell them what to expect; tell them what happens; tell them the results.  Did you notice I just told you the same thing from 3 different perspectives – tell them…, tell them…, tell them…?  Repetition is crucial.
    Equally important is sharing information frequently through all available channels – both print and verbal. And let me stress the importance of print (whether via email, newsletter or other channels). Putting your message in writing forces clarity which is often missing from verbal communication. It also allows reconciliation between the truth and the sometimes blown-out-of-the-water gossip that occurs during any large scale change.
  3. Encourage Involvement.  Ask for suggestions, request alternatives, hold brainstorming sessions and launch task forces to investigate and recommend. Then take the extra step - actually take action on what you've heard.  I've implemented suggestions that I know will have little measurable affect, yet the value of employees feeling heard and involved is priceless.  So hold collaborative meetings to evaluate, prioritize, and take ownership of steps in the change process.  Make the change about and with them.

For more information on the human side of process change, check out the following websites:

The Change Management Toolbook - www.change-management-toolbook.com
The Change Management Learning Center – www.change-management.com
The Manager.org Knowledgebase - www.themanager.org/Knowledgebase/Management/Change.htm

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