Managing Change from the Front Lines When an improvement feels like an aggravation
In response to a change in your firm, have you ever:
• Kept quiet about your doubts?
• Implemented a “work-around” to avoid new processes?
• Started looking for another job?
Successful organizational change requires effective, active support across a firm. When plans stall or disappoint, it’s normal for front-line employees to feel frustrated.
You might believe you’re stuck with a less than perfect solution, but you do have options to improve the situation.
1. Try an anthropological approach.
What was the manager or firm trying to achieve with the change? How does it relate to long-term goals? Observe how people answer the question and listen to the language they use. The organizational view will reveal the context for why certain decisions were made. This will help you make sense of your role in the “big picture”. It will also identify what you might need to prepare for down the road.
2. Speak the truth of your day-to-day work.
If you have a trusting relationship with your direct supervisor, describe how the change impacts your work. Be specific – which systems, teams and people are involved? What are the biggest roadblocks? Focus on facts, not opinions.
Sometimes, when you quantify what’s happening, you’ll realize that the impact isn’t as big as you thought even though your feelings about it are strong.
Also, your supervisor might be genuinely unaware of the consequences of the change.
By communicating your perspective, you’ll also help executive decision makers see how their vision is (or is not) being fulfilled by highlighting reality, rather than rationale. For example, what were the milestones and metrics of success? And what really happened?
According to Prosci (pronounced pro-sigh), the largest research and training organization involved in the “people side of change”, only 44% of organizations measure whether change is occurring at an individual level.
3. Get involved.
If a change implementation plan was created, ask your manager if you can review it. Offer a post-mortem to explain how the reality of your experience differs from what was intended and what could be considered next time.
Organizational change is usually an iterative process. You might be able to join a user-testing or advisory group in planning the next phase of a roll-out.
When front-line employees don’t know why a change was made, or if they don’t believe in the ultimate goal, they often disengage from activities that support it. Apathy, learned helplessness and cynicism (the three horsemen of the organizational culture apocalypse) are often the result. Individuals can help improve the situation, but it takes courage to speak up and try a different approach than usual.