I am often asked ‘When is the right time to prepare an organisation for change?’. This normally comes up when an CEO has announced a change, or leaders have gone though my ‘Leading through transition seminar” seminar (then realising what is involved, they ask for their teams to go through my ‘Dealing with uncertainty seminar’ seminar). Normally the driver is that change is here and happening.
My answer is generally ‘Yesterday’
The best time to prepare your people for change, is before change itself. That might not sound sensible but let”s think it through.
When you are in the midst of change your brain starts to behave differently. Change is normally something to worry about. If you are an employee you aren’t in control of it, probably don’t know what is happening exactly and are unlikely to know what is happening to you as a result of the change.
Your brain simplifies all this complexity and goes back to your caveman past and treats it like a threat. More importantly it treats it like an unknown threat. With unknown outcomes your brain will keep going back to the problem to see if you can solve it (you know this; thats why you wake up at night or can”t sleep for thinking about it). In addition your brain narrows in and focuses on the threat. In doing so it simplifies your attention and you tend to miss things. This makes sense when dealing with a threat because you cant be distracted when a threat is at hand (early cavemen probably learnt this the hard way). That”s also why its easier for leaders to say ‘business as usual’ than it is for the workforce to act that way.
So how attentive to new learning are you going to be?
But if you learn how to cope with change when you aren’t worrying about it, then it is far easier to go back to the knowledge/tools/processes/practices etc, because you will have learned that this is the way to deal with the unknown threat. It makes it easier for the leader too as they can gather the team together and say ‘remember that stuff we learnt a few months ago? Lets all dig it out and apply it to now’.
The normal situation that I come across is that the CEO/GM has announced that change is coming but doesn’t yet know what the change will be (structure, owners, system etc). So they decide to leave the training of people until the answer is know.Why does this happen? I find that managers tend to prefer certainty. They get promoted for creating it and like to be seen to know the answers, so its not surprising that they want to wait ‘till things are known’ (this is the case with change communication too and I’ve blogged on that before).
The problem with that approach is that people have been going through the emotional side of change for the weeks and months between knowing that change is coming, and then knowing how the change will be implemented. That’s weeks and months of the unknown. Through that time they will go through the roller-coaster of emotional change and their brains will be trying to deal with the problem (the threat) without any tools or capability.
Then someone comes along and tells them what they’ve been going through, and whilst that is a relief (and believe me when I tell you that the most immediate affect of my dealing with uncertainty seminar when delivered during change, is that of relief), its is still a harder job to consider your personal ‘coping’ mechanisms because you are in the change and that is your focus.
Whether you are in change now, thinking about going in to change, or change is on the horizon, prepare your people for change as soon as you can. Thats the right time.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘all good things come to an end’. We normally apply it to such things as winning streaks for our favourite sports teams or the end of a long running and acclaimed Tv series. In our own lives we may say it at the end of a good holiday perhaps. But do we ever consider it in terms of our working lives?
Within business it really could be applied in many ways; such as the natural decline of a high selling product line that becomes unfashionable or overtaken by technology. It can be applied to companies themselves, many of whom decline and disappear even though at one time we thought they would be stalwarts and a constant part of our lives.
In our own careers, it can be roles that we really enjoy that gradually disappear as technology or need overtakes them. Sometimes the company gets bought by an owner who sees things differently and decides that the role we had is not relevant for their business model. And of course, sometimes they all combine as a product declines, so too does a business and then as it goes, so does our role.
These situations feel very different to the holiday scenario, where we smile as we say ‘ all good things cone to an end’. Perhaps it is because the holiday was always designed to be a short term activity and our job, the company, the product wasn’t, but it’s harder to smile and say ‘all good things..’ when it comes to our workplace. Perhaps it’s because the holiday is a matter of personal choice ( two weeks, three weeks, home or overseas etc, these choices are all ours to make) and the end of a product or company isn’t, but people have difficulty facing the end of such things in their working lives.
I’m not talking about sudden announcements of redundancies ( which I talk about in my ‘Leading through transition’ seminars’) which we all know create anxiety for people. I’m talking about the gradual ‘writing is on the wall’ situations, where we hang on to a product, a division or a role well in to their decline, almost hoping that fortunes will be reversed and the good times will come again.
How often have you seen a company hold on to a product even though it is losing money and there is every sign that it has been overtaken in the marketplace by improved technology, a better idea or changing fashions? How about a business model that served us well for many years but is now outdated, ineffective or costly (door to door sales? bookstores anyone?), but is held on to for what seems to just be the warm recollection of the good old days? And in situations where the company is sold and it us very obvious that the new owner sees things differently how many times do you see people hanging on to their role even though everything is changing around them or it is obvious that they are no longer appreciated by the new boss? Waiting for the boss to see the light? Or perhaps to be ‘paid to leave’?
I had a conversation with a top quality GM recently and during it we agreed that it takes guts to leave a job that you really have no need to leave, but you can see that your time in that role should be over; that ’all good things come to an end’. It’s the same being the one to say ‘this strategy has only a year left in it’ or ‘this product will only last us another sales cycle’ or ‘ this model is doing fine but we actually need to prepare for it’s end’ and doing so while things are relatively ok. My GM colleague said to me ‘it takes guts to get out at the top, but everyone respects you more in the long run’ and I think he is right.
Recognising that ‘all good things come to an end’ doesn’t mean you panic at the first sign of change, or when one or two things don’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you jump as soon as the new boss arrives or when your company goes up for sale. It doesn’t mean that with the right effort a product couldn’t be turned round or a divisions fortunes improved.
It does mean taking stock of everything and being able to recognise the reality of an environment, the trends and the symptoms and then deciding whether the path you are on is going to work for you/the brand/the division (delete as required).
For all of us there will be times when ‘all good things are coming to an end’, the trick us can you see them in time.
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