Business Leading, Not Managing December 2, 2013

Should your workforce have 'time to adapt' or should they 'adapt in time'?


Some business leaders are struggling due to the impact of less money available in the supply chain, but others experience periodic growth including acquiring another business in some way.

More and more organisations are looking at the best ways to Lead & Manage change- as this directly affects the day to day running of their businesses.

Often the subject of time and how much to allow for people to adapt to change comes up.

Change your expectations

In my experience, this period of adjustment takes longer than business leaders either expect or desire, but that isn’t because they are intentionally impatient, it’s just that they are often driven by a need.

This ‘need’ doesn’t often have the luxury of lengthy time periods attached behind it especially where downsizing is involved.

The longer people take to adapt; the harder the process feels to implement; the more frustrated management can become, and the more likely they will feel or sense ‘resistance’ to their change or idea.

In reality, this may not be resistance but rather a reflection or feedback that signals a need for the changes to slow down. 

An example of this came to light as I spoke to a Vistage group earlier this year when one member had just acquired another business.

Hopeful that they would all have got used to each other (it was November when it began), the member expected H.R. to have TUPE the employees over, the office to be working at full capacity, and all employees happily focussed on the strategy for the future by January.

In reality, the employees were still unhappy, new employees struggled to integrate, and the atmosphere was rapidly becoming de-motivated.

However this situation was salvageable and didn’t suggest true resistance in people but perhaps indicated that they needed ‘time to adapt’ rather than ‘please adapt in time for my January deadline'.

Try something different

If you are about to acquire a business or recognise any of this, and you have time before your new employees join you, you might like to try taking the current ones out first or have a small event in the office, with the express purpose of thanking them for everything they’ve done so far.

- This often works wonders!

It is a ‘roll up your sleeves and bring in 30 doughnuts’ type of event rather than a small formal presentation with the Finance Director showing them the figures of the business’ type.

It also includes everyone rather than one particular group such as the bonus paid to the sales team might be.

I also find that staff are more likely to welcome new employees when they are encouraged to become a ‘buddy’ to someone; making each individual become responsible for the support and subsequent ‘fit’ of a new employee in to their department and the company’s way of doing things.

Again, this doesn’t have to be a formal mentoring programme but just a ‘help and advice’ source of support, allowing for the fact that HR and IT probably have everyone to integrate in to the company already so might be better to buddy with other people in other departments.

It is then worth completing a second ‘doughnuts all round’ type event two to three months later so that you can welcome the new employees and check how everyone is doing.

If your business is used to group events like this and being asked how they are in an open forum, then it’s worth asking them for ideas to maintain morale or keen them motivated.

If they are not used to open forums, this might be better facilitated in follow-up meetings with their own respective teams and immediate Manager.

To manage the situation the member I referred to earlier was experiencing, where morale had been affected by a change, it is likely that something could be achieved by a ‘thank you’ event too, but it makes the follow-up team chats even more important.

These can be a targeted briefing where there is a real opportunity to concentrate on what people are feeling, how they would like things to improve, and ideas for better integration.

Nominate a Morale Mentor

You may even like to think about nominating a department rep or ‘Morale Monitor’ to help observe how people are and meet with you once a month having asked everyone prior to meeting with you, for feedback and suggestions about how to support each other. 

- One business we suggested this to, calls their reps ‘M & M’s’ after the sweets!

In conclusion, whingeing is never nice to hear but it is often an indicator that employees are experiencing genuine difficulties. 

A positive result can be achieved if whingeing is constructively channelled and if you nominate someone to feedback to you, and support them.

That way your people feel valued and ‘heard’ and you hopefully feel you’ve achieved something too. 

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