Change affects everyone, whether it is a minor change or something as major as staff restructuring or a business merger. Change is a crucial component of growth and is inevitable.
Here are the opinions from IT Change Managers suggesting different approaches to handle conflict at workplace resulting from organizational change.
Change Managers need to be ready for all elements resulting from change. That is one of the most important things. Once you’re ready, you can positively spin the results positively. If you’re not, you’re going to have nothing but grief. So please, really work the change effectively.
Conflict often arises during the change process and as a change manager I believe we need to keep our stakeholders focused on the end goals of the change.
How to do it? Each situation is unique, but it is essential to validate the goals at milestones during the change process-especially because there may be a change to them as the project unfolds.
While there are many conflict resolution approaches out there. The ones best suited for Change Managers is Collaborating. As a change manager you should be able to always influence change without authority.
Compromising comes in a close second I feel that as a change manager you tend to diminish the return of your investment by compromising the effort in working out the balance between how much to compromise and when to draw the line. By ‘Collaborating’ you are engaging very closely with the stakeholder and ensuring that communication channels are open and clear, each barrier has a mitigation plan thought out, and there is equal accountability in resolving the conflict.
There are many angles from which to look at this topic, but the two I will focus on today are “why are we changing” and “what is expected of me to make this change successful?”
Regarding “why are we changing,” where I have recently run into conflict is at the senior executive table, trying to get vice presidents and directors to articulate “why” the organization is changing. These inputs would help to craft meaningful messages and reasons for employees, but if senior executives can’t articulate the rationale for a change, the has the decision to change really been thought through?
As a change manager, it is part of my job to facilitate these discussions, and to flag topics around the “why” when more work needs to be done. The conflict arises when senior leadership themselves have not fully defined why they are pushing for change, or why they are asking employees to change. Conflict also arises when they realize how much time and effort this takes as a group. It is intensive, but worth it. Defining desired business outcomes up front helps everyone to stay focused as the project progresses, and competing priorities or doubt arise.
The second area where I have seen conflict arise during change initiatives is in the middle of the project, when the leaders, the project team, the business reps, and the subject matter experts realize how much effort is required to make a change successful. If the project has not bee resourced well, or if BAU jobs have not been temporarily been back-filled to allow project members to fully commit to the project, then folks quickly become stressed, short-tempered, and/or make mistakes that they normally would not make. It helps when leaders are clear and are able to help their team(s) to prioritize. It also helps to have BAU roles back-filled, so project team members can stay focused on the change without stressing about their day-to-day jobs.
Change is a fact of life. In a business setting, it can be caused by growth, pursuing new ventures, management turnover or policy changes. Most people are unsettled by change, however, which gives rise to conflict. The better change is managed, the easier it is to identify potential sources of conflict and step up with solutions before an enforced solution becomes necessary.
This means management must be prepared and positioned to see change coming through monitoring of sales data, marketplace shifts, moves by competitors and relationships with outside organizations. Being on top of these conditions can lead to a more timely response that can keep confidence and morale high as change occurs.
Open communication is also essential. Employees should be informed and kept updated on circumstances causing changes and what is being considered in response. By being transparent and keeping them in the loop, they’ll be less resistant and conflicted by change.
Change is uncomfortable but necessary. Change Managers play a critical role in ensuring the success of the change initiative. The best Change Manager spends time in recognizing the human implication of the change, and work extensively to manage the emotions of the workforce. Change is often synonymous to loss of jobs, a cut in spending and other uncertainties. These emotions are felt by the workforce to various degrees and are the underlying reason for their fears. These fears translate into resistance, which leads to conflict. The best change managers are pro-active and honest in their communication. They help teams and individuals see their contribution in the future state of the organization and rally them towards contributing to their future. They make teams contributors to the change, rather than be the mere recipient of it.
The process begins early on by honestly sharing the challenge on hand and seeking input from teams to overcome it. It is followed by putting together a proposal and bringing it up for debate. Once the process is thoroughly debated, and the teams or their managers are behind it, the next step is to ensure that the managers communicate the change effectively to their team members. This process sounds straight forward but is not as easy to execute. There is the question of getting people together given the bandwidth constraint in a hectic schedule. Then the ability to facilitate a discussion without bias. People recognize very quickly if they are being led to a pre-conceived agenda, or if they are being consulted. With a hidden agenda lurking, the trust diminishes, and people start withdrawing from the conversation. But, when done correctly, people feel empowered, and the Change Manager can potentially come up with a future state that leverages teams’ strengths and willingness. It is not an easy task by any means. It starts by honestly recognizing the diversity that teams bring and suspending all biases.
I once asked a group to share a task they successfully completed that most believed was not possible given the limited resources. Each member of the group shared a personal experience. As they took turns, each participant elaborated their task to make it sound more challenging than the previous speaker. By the end of the discussion, we believed nothing was impossible. Our take away from the exercise was that when we choose our challenges, we are more resourceful in getting it done. We focus on ways to meet our goals rather than the obstacles in the way. The best Change Manager realizes that the change is not about reaching the next stop but reaching the next stop full of energy, motivation and a sense of team accomplishment.
- Do a thorough review of the change record and check by clicking on ‘the conflicts’ button located in the tool (ServiceNow as an example).
- Publish a Forward Change schedule to ensure all the stakeholders are informed in advance of the ‘planned’ changes.
- Check with the technical/implementing teams involved whether the engineer is involved with any other change activity in the SAME change window/duration.
- Check if the CI (Configuration Item) which includes but not limited to a Server, Business Application, Infrastructure Service, etc is impacted on any other planned change activity within the SAME change window.
- If any of the above conditions are TRUE. please consult with the stakeholders and accordingly REJECT/RESCHEDULE the conflicting activity to evade any outage or degradation of the Server, Service or Application involved.
- Do a thorough crackdown on UNAUTHORIZED change records.
In my experience of working on transformational projects, I feel chief consideration is always people. People are made up of emotions, fears and vulnerabilities. As a change manager, it is very important to understand the reason of conflicts which could be:
- The change being implemented by a leader that is not respected or trusted, therefore employees are unsure about the execution of the change.
- The staff is not knowledgeable or skilled enough in what they are trying to change to. E.g. – Implementing a new enterprise level software that incidentally may cost jobs
Sometime, resistance to change is mainly driven not on the idea that what they are moving to is going to be a bad idea for the Company, but it may a be bad idea for colleagues themselves.
So, my view what change manager should do to handle conflicts by this change is:
- Be impartial
- Show Empathy
- Show understanding of the concerns for both sides
- Act as a mediator
Once people understand that their voices and concerns have been heard and their fears have been conveyed to somebody they trust. Then leave it in the hands of the change manager to say “Trust me, I am on their concerns and I will do what I can do to ensure that this change is implemented smoothly with the lowest impact to the people.”
So, the main points I feel is – Listen, show empathy and build trust.