Managing Change

September 15, 2014 in Best of Both, leadership, management, work by MyBestofBothWorlds

Managing Change is today’s Management Monday post.  Welcome Back to Management Mondays!

Wikipedia defines the term middle management as a layer of management in an organization whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of subordinates while reporting to upper management.  It’s also been referred to as being stuck between a rock and a hard place or monkey in the middle.  I’ve also heard many less seasoned middle managers sound the battle cry of don’t shoot the messenger when something unpopular has to be disseminated.  They also play the blame card, I didn’t make the rules, upper management does, I just have to enforce them.

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Managing change is tough and introducing new concepts, programs, initiatives, etc is never an easy or quick task.  First and foremost, the manager has to fully understand the goals, objectives and desired results before s/he can be effective in bringing the message to the line staff members.  The manager needs to be well prepared and comfortable as to anticipate potential questions and concerns of the staff members.  Responses to these issues should be well thought out, so the employee can begin to feel comfortable with what is being introduced and asked of them.

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Managers commonly make the mistake of assuming that once a change has started, that employees will see that it;s inevitable, and get on board. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Change tends to cause fear, a sense of loss of the familiar, etc., it takes some time for employees to understand the meaning of the change.  It also takes time for staff members to  commit to the change in a meaningful way. It is important to understand that people tend to go through stages in their attempts to cope with change.  Understanding that there are normal progressions helps change leaders avoid under managing change or over-reacting to resistance.

The chatter often starts with comments of “here we go again”, or “can’t they let us just do our jobs and leave us alone”.  An early strategy that people use to cope with change is to deny that it is happening, or to deny that it will continue or last.   The negativity comes out in various forms of “this is never going to work” or the “flavor of the week”.  People in the denial stage are trying to avoid dealing with the fear and uncertainty of prospective change. They are hoping they won’t have to adapt.

The denial stage is difficult because it is hard to involve people in planning for the future, when they will not acknowledge that the future is going to be any different from the present. Employees tend to move out of the denial stage when they see solid, tangible indicators that things ARE different. Even with these indicators some staff members can remain in denial for some time.

When people can no longer deny that something is or has happened, they tend to move into a state of anger, accompanied by covert and/or over resistance. This stage is the most critical with respect to the success of the change implementation. Leadership is needed to help work through the anger, and to move people to the next stage. If leadership is poor, the anger at this stage may last indefinitely, perhaps much longer than even the memory of the change itself.  This is where the manager, in my opinion has the biggest challenge, to keep a cool head and lead by example rather than copping out to the pressure and moving the “blame” to senior management.  Being prepared for more “pot stirring” comments such as “do we need another consultant to tell us how to do our jobs” or “how could you let them do this to us?” Having reasonable responses help diffuse anger and gets staff re-focused.

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Eventually staff members realize that with or without them the change is going to continue and they begin to get over the hump. They have stopped denying, and while they may be somewhat angry, the anger has moved out of the spotlight. They have a better understanding of the meaning of the change and are more willing to explore further, and to accept the change. They act more open-mindedly, and are now more interested in planning around the change and being participants in the process.  They have come to the realization that they are going to have to make the best of it.

Once people are committed to the change, and are willing to work towards making it succeed is when you are going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  While the work is far from over, by proactively managing change, you have helped them successfully navigate the rough seas of a change process. They know it is a reality, and at this point people have adapted sufficiently to make it work. While some changes will never get endorsement from employees (downsizing, for example) employees at this stage will commit to making the organization effective within the constraints that have resulted from the change.


So next time change is coming your way (and it always does) be proactive in managing change and hopefully you too will see positive results.

What advice do you have for successfully managing change that you can share?  Please leave a comment below.