The business world is moving at an increasing pace, with constant internal and external pressures to perform and thrive in a competitive marketplace. This is driving high degrees of change, as organisations make efforts to maintain competitive, productive and sustainable operations. As a result, we are seeing increasing trends in mergers, acquisitions, and restructures, with companies such as PwC, Deloitte and Intralinks reporting an increase in merger and acquisition activity that will persist through 2016.
Making such change is often a business imperative. What we need to remember is the impact that this has on employees within these organisations, as well as their extended network of family, friends and the community. Experiencing such changes can be very unsettling for workforces, resulting in uncertainty, insecurity and stress at the individual level, and impacts to morale, productivity, engagement and retention at the organisational level.
So how do we keep employees motivated and engaged during times of substantial transformational changes?
To start with, today’s organisations are dynamic and constantly changing, often in the context of a lack of information and with many unknowns. Because large scale changes can feel destabilising, it is critical that leaders understand the impacts of working in what we refer to as ‘VUCA’ environments. This acronym stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, four key factors that commonly characterise the nature of working environments in the 21st century. Today effective business operation and leadership is all about complexity management and learning to lead through uncertainty. Understanding how to lead in VUCA environments, and how to support employees and maintain performance through such challenges, is critical to business success.
Whilst it is easy to get caught up with the systems, process and operational aspects of change implementation, understanding human behaviour and how to influence attitudes regarding change is also a useful skill for leaders. Being able to have supportive, empathetic and understanding conversations can go a long way to making employees feel respected and valued, and that their experiences and emotions are acknowledged and validated. In doing so, we can increase satisfaction, commitment and engagement. But when emotions and behaviours start to become destructive or impact upon others, it can be useful to have tools and strategies at hand to shift unhelpful thinking patterns that may result in harmful behaviours.
It’s also important to build agile, flexible and resilient workforces that can respond to the demands of working in complex and changing environments. Ensuring that demands are not excessive, and giving people the resources they need to do their work, whether it be people, financial, technical, or support, will help to reduce stress levels, increasing the capacity to cope and continue to perform optimally despite disruptions and distractions.
All in all, there are some key strategies that leaders can undertake to lead effectively through change and maintain a motivated and engaged workforce:
- Communication: communicate about changes and decisions as openly, honestly and often as possible. Being transparent and keeping employees informed can help to stop the rumour mill that will crush morale and productivity by creating negative distractions. Provide opportunities for employees to ask questions, raise concerns, and provide feedback about what is happening at work.
- Team Cohesion: focusing on team building and ensuring strong working relationships can drive the support employees need to continue to perform and function during times of challenge. The emotional and social bonds that employees have result in better collaboration and communication, and can also act as a buffer against stress.
- Psychosocial Wellbeing: foster a positive culture of health and wellbeing, encouraging employees to speak up if they feel stressed or need support, and put systems in place to provide such support. Having peer support networks, Employee Assistance Programs, and wellbeing programs can aid in effective stress management and coping strategies.
- Goals and Milestones: establishing team goals and key milestones, giving employees something practical to work towards. Ensure there is time to celebrate the achievement of goals, and reinforce for employees their individual contributions to the organisation’s overall success.
- Rewards and Recognition: appropriate and meaningful rewards and recognition can help people to feel a greater sense of value, confidence and self-worth. Praise and recognition could simply involve encouragement, gratitude, compliments and other gestures of appreciation.
- Resilience: support employees to develop the capacity to be adaptable, flexible and responsive to work demands. Teams wanting to be more resilient should focus on developing mutual trust, respect, shared norms and collaboration.
- Fun and Enjoyment: whilst it is important to maintain a focus on work, giving employees permission for fun and enjoyment can help to build a positive environment in which people want to work.
- Cultural Integration: if merging teams or organisations, put strategies in place to successfully merge the cultures of each group, resulting in the adoption of a set of shared values and practices.
By considering the impacts of change and the needs of the workforce, leaders can ensure that changes are implemented effectively by bringing employees along for the journey, and continuing to foster a positive and supportive working environment.