The rush for immediate results from an organizational change often ends with unintended consequences. Consider an example from a large, US-based service company. Senior managers recognized that their processes, especially for ordering materials, had become misaligned with their reporting structure. They were planning a large-scale reorganization to clarify the reporting structures, simplify the ordering processes, and realign the two. Like in many companies, senior management kicked off the change with a big, all-hands announcement that outlined the benefits expected from streamlining the processes and coordinating them with the reporting structure. The announcement did not fall on deaf ears, so much as ears distracted by other concerns.
While senior managers were explaining the lofty benefits expected from the reorganization, employees were wondering how it would affect them and how it would be rolled out. Right after the big announcement, a first-level line manager made the following comment, “There’s going to be a lot of change in my area. I will be giving up many of my current duties to get others to be revealed soon. This reorg could go much smoother if senior management would listen to the experience I have to offer. I am the one who implements—I should say works around—these processes in order to satisfy my customers. I will do what I can to make it work because of my pride. But I see failure on the horizon.” Her words reveal apprehension that her hands-on experience was about to be discounted, leaving her reticent about the change.
It takes precious time to listen to people’s concerns, their ideas about what needs to change, and suggestions for how to make it work. It takes even more time—and effort—to integrate those ideas into the change. Sometimes in the rush to get things done, it is tempting to believe that the time saved by pushing ahead with a plan quickly—without employee involvement—will implementation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. This method is more likely to result in employee apathy and even fear. There is a balance between seeking and honoring employee inputand setting a change in motion. Striking that balance demands open discussion, but not open-ended discussion. The goal of seeking employee input is to improve decision making, not avoid it.
An interesting facet of this service company’s reorg is that the problems in the processes and the unclear reporting were recognized throughout the company well before the announcement. Many employees lived the chaos of having the responsibility for their work product fall into one part of the hierarchy while their actual reporting structure fell into another. They intuitively understood the business case behind the change
. They also knew they were closest to the problems and had insights on how to fix them. Ignoring those insights is a kind of hubris that can put a change in peril—no matter how much it is needed. Employees have aspirations about their own careers and personal goals—many of which were compatible with the reorg. Aligning employee and organizational goals, whenever possible, engages employees and turns them into advocates for the change.
Inclusion and involvement are key aspects of beginning a change. Understanding both the business problem and the employees’ concerns takes time up front, but it is ultimately time well spent. Effective change is done with people, not to them. Trying to cut corners by making decisions without input from those who will be most affected misses the opportunity of including valuable experience in the change strategy and drives the unintended consequences of apathy and fear. In contrast, listening to employees’ concerns, using their knowledge, and leveraging their aspirations engages employees and gives them confidence in the future. This is the stuff of successful change management.