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Managing disruption during organisational change

Diverse Business Team Discussing Work In OfficeAs the old saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. For organisations making changes, it’s reasonable to expect there will be some level of disruption. But as a leader or manager overseeing a change initiative, it is important that we know, firstly, what these disruptors look like on the floor and, secondly, how we can minimise their impact so the benefits of the change are realised.

When organisational change isn’t as good as a holiday

The word ‘change’ will always be greeted with an element of fear and anxiety by employees and that is only natural – change can be scary, it can be hard work! However, there is a point where employees will need to get on with the job and when change detracts from what the organisation needs to achieve on a day-to-day basis (for an extended period) then the success of the project could be at risk.

The best tool for dealing with this is to understand and predict the disruptive behaviours that come with change. So with this in mind, here are some common ways this plays out:

The rumour mill

Where people know change is happening, they can be thirsty for information about how it will happen and how it will affect them. In the absence of official information, the rumour mill will take over. This is normal, however when it goes on too long or becomes a blockage for engagement it can have a big impact on productivity. People huddled in corridors and kitchens swapping rumours are distracted from productive work. Rumours also tend to create unnecessary fear and damage to confidence and morale – as in the absence of information, there is human tendency to make assumptions and fear the worst. This is due to our innate need for certainty.

The ostrich effect

Too much change can be disruptive, leading to change overload. People and systems don’t have time to adjust and embed one change, before another one is upon them. Eventually, capacity to manage change is exhausted. Each individual will have a different tolerance level, but ultimately each of us has a finite capacity to deal with change before we tip over into occupational stress. Too much change can be overwhelming. In response people can stop being receptive to any more change, and may in fact struggle to cope.

Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, they hope it will all blow over if they ignore it. This can become a serious barrier to effecting change that is needed to make organisations more effective.

Inefficiency from uncertainty

Productivity can also be impacted when people aren’t clear on the status of a change. They may know a system is changing, and not be sure whether they should be using the “old” or “new” approach… so they decide to defer action and wait until things are clearer. Or, they err on the side of caution and run through both systems, just to be sure. These can be disruptive responses that impact organisational performance and individual morale and engagement with work.

Well laid plans

Being on the front foot in managing change can help to control the level of disruption. Key steps that will help you realise the benefits of change, and to respond if you see it becoming too disruptive, are:

  • Upfront planning and systematic management of change is a key factor in minimising the disruptive effects of change.
  • It’s also important to know your tolerance for disruption. In planning your change management approach, have an open discussion about how much disruption the organisation can or will tolerate. You might also consider conducting an analysis of individual and organisational readiness for change, and looking specifically at possible resistance factors.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – Lack of information can be a key driver of disruption, highlighting the critical need for a robust communication plan and for regular, responsive communication. It can be as important to communicate when there is “no news”. Otherwise, the rumour mill will fill the vacuum.
  • Give a clear sense of direction – linked to the need to communicate, providing people with a really clear idea of where the change is heading and why can help minimise disruptive effects of change. People can be much more willing to tolerate the discomfort of change (and not let it become too disruptive) if they understand what the benefits will be and when they’ll arrive.

A watchful eye

Once your change management plans are in place, it’s also critical to keep an eye on how things are going. Things may be more disruptive than you expected. Key things to pay attention to:

  • The mood on the floor – talking to people from across the organisation, and drawing on a network of change champions is important in taking the pulse of the organisation and checking for signs of excessive disruption
  • HR trends in your team and across the organisation (absenteeism, turnover, grievances)
  • Engagement with consultation processes – have people stopped listening, or is there a spike in interest? Either one may indicate there is an issue to be managed.

Ultimately, change is an important ingredient to any organisation’s growth and progression. All change will involve some disruption. In order to achieve success with a change initiative, the level of disruption must be managed and tempered by managers. They must remain conscious of and be prepared for the disruption it can bring but not let that disruption become a blockage to realising benefits of change.

 

TMS has a number of change management specialists and in-house psychologists who have a professional insight and understanding into human behaviour and motivations, especially when exposed to change and during times of stress. If you require assistance with an upcoming change management project, please contact us today to speak with one of our consultants.

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Brodie Woodland, Director of Governance and Strategy

Brodie has a focus on developing governance standards and practices to promote organisational performance. Her interest is in assisting boards and leadership teams to develop and improve frameworks that allow the collective experience of the governance group to be harnessed to achieve better outcomes for the organisation.