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Consider the Stress You Cause Employees Before Changing Everything

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The federal government is a fantastic example of a diverse and complicated organization challenged by the daunting task of constant change.  This change carries consequences that are misunderstood and, worse, often ignored. How do you cope?

Go to the source.  Deeply rooted in our instinctual behavior is a predisposition to “attach to” or “lean on” objects both tangible (like an office space) and intangible (like a business process) that provide support and security.  This natural instinct begins at birth and never goes away. The objects we “attach to” or “lean on” evolve as we grow older.  As adults, the objects are often related to our workplace and might include a specific technology, a unique leadership style or an organizational structure.  This can be any object in your work environment that enables individual employee to successfully and efficiently complete daily tasks.

Monitor the disruption.  Organizational change often disrupts our relationship with and dependence on these objects, resulting in an instinctual response. If an alternate support mechanism is not introduced to the individual or group during a period of transition, the result is heightened organizational dysfunction.  This will increase the probability of failure for the change initiative and, ultimately, decrease the collective performance of the organization.  

A few years ago I was working with a client on integrating a new technology.  The change strategy failed to consider the individual loss of security caused by retiring the old system and implementing the new one. Employees were unsettled, suddenly absent a key system used to carry out daily tasks.  We discovered the failure, which was a foundational failure of our implementation strategy, a few weeks later and implemented a new education/training program that included more involvement by senior leadership. 

Implement a mitigation strategy.  In the example above, the reactive mitigation techniques reassured the employees, redefined the application and retroactively provided the level of training and leadership involvement that was required to efficiently manage the technology transition.  Although integration took slightly longer than expected, the overall project was successful because the change strategy was adjusted mid-course to account for the unique needs of that organization’s individual employees.  Imagine how smooth the process could be if consideration for the individual employee’s behavioral response is implemented proactively at the beginning of the change initiative.  

Individual employees in organizations require customized support and a well-defined strategy to successfully transition through change.  Given the current fiscal environment and the likelihood that we are seeing the beginning of a new normal, a heightened appreciation and preemptive consideration for individual instincts will increase potential for organizational change success.

Image via Moshimochi/

Dr. Victoria M. Grady is an Assistant Professorial Lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington D.C., Principal Consultant at PivotPoint Business Solutions and co-author of The Pivot Point: Success in Organizational Change.

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