by Guest Blogger – Mandy Smith

In the words of leadership guru, Robin Sharma, “All change is hardest at the beginning, messiest in the middle and best at the end”.

Having recently conducted a fairly major service review that resulted in significant structural, resourcing and system changes, I currently find myself in the thick of that ‘messy bit’ of change.

The necessary changes have been communicated to staff and have been met with the expected level of emotion that change seems to conjure.  However, I am finding that it is the working through the details of change that can only be described as messy.  I’ve decided to bring my staff into this mess with me, so that they can be actively involved in working through the details and restoring order.  I do this, as it is my strong belief that this is the ONLY way to ensure staff buy-in and that ultimately the change is successfully implemented. 

Too often we wait until all the details are finalised and then we present it to staff as a fait accompli.   While these details are being determined it is tempting to avoid communicating with staff.  There are still so many unknowns and the likelihood is you will be asked a question that you do not yet know the answers to.  Yet I’m finding great power in saying “I do not know, but I would love your thoughts”.  The truth is the real experts on the effective implementation of change is highly likely to be those affected by the change.

My experience tells me I need to talk to people and talk to them frequently. When we don’t fill in the blanks for people, they will fill them in themselves; conjuring up all sorts of imagined hidden agendas and plans. Communicating regularly the status of the change management process, even if nothing has occurred since the last communication lessens the likelihood of rumors and anxiousness.  The communication may only be to highlight questions or issues that are yet to be resolved and to and seeking staff input.  The real challenge is to have these conversations face to face.

When it comes to communicating changes, emails just don’t cut it.  Communicating change needs to be face to face to enable a sensitive, 2-way discussion.  You can not ‘sell’ change to people, you can only talk about it in terms of the impact on individuals and the ‘what’s in it for me’ and this works best in individual discussions.

You can really win the support of staff by showing you care about them and their individual needs by spending the time to have a conversation with them.  Emails rarely result in good 2-way discussions.  Despite my request, not once have I had a response to my monthly emails on the change process.  However when I sit down 1:1 with people, I come away with my head spinning of unexpected concerns, suggestions and really great ideas.  These meetings enable me to check in with people that they understand the need for change and exactly what changes are required.  It also enables me to test assumptions I have made and the feasibility of ideas.

We must not forget that change is very unsettling for most people and nothing helps more than having someone to talk though concerns with.

My advice is when planning for change, plan for an enormous amount of talking.  It is time consuming but it will fast track how quickly you can get to the ‘best bit’ when changes have been effectively implemented and the desired results are achieved.