It is no secret that organizations across the globe must constantly adapt to volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Executives are increasingly applying this military acronym, VUCA, to highlight the environment they face. From mergers and acquisitions to re-branding initiatives, from downsizing to re-alignment, companies face hard decisions that most often impact the workforce.
When companies face any type of restructure, staff reductions are taken seriously. Not only do all decisions take regulations and laws into account, but there are also decisions concerning the impacted staff that range from severance options to outplacement services. And, in today’s world of instant communication and forums such as Glassdoor and Twitter, companies must attend to public relations concerns and potential legal action if things are not executed correctly. HR departments work tirelessly to ensure they follow the basic compliance steps. Often, their attention to the process is diverted when they are called upon to also address the emotional toll that comes with attending to the disproportionate impact for all stakeholders, including those not impacted.
It is not surprising that companies undergoing significant change today require a new approach. Gone are the days when it is simply enough to minimize litigation risk and attend to the standard check-lists. Today’s HR professionals are also seen as strategic partners, and are expected to place significant effort on leading organizations through this change. To do this effectively requires a quick pivot to address the dynamics in play for the remaining employees so the business does not lose its cultural glue and enter a downward performance spiral.
Successful organizations know that it takes people to get things done. They also know that formal and informal relationships allow this to happen. Team effectiveness has been studied for decades and most employees can recall Bruce Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model created back in 1965. In our effort to grow high performing teams and zero in on what needs to happen for employees to achieve goals and objectives, we neglect to pay as much attention to rebuilding employees and teams after a period of transition. This period of transition may be most noticeable after a staff reduction, but it happens any time people are asked to let go of their old ways of doing things and adapt to something new.
Tremendous amounts of research has been done on what happens to people during times of transition and change. Most notably is the work of William Bridges (1991) who explored how people respond to changes in their roles, relationships, structures and even physical space in his book, “Managing Transitions.” His work highlights three stages of transition that begins with the Endings, moves into the Transition Zone and finally enters New Beginnings. While it is important for HR and company executives to recognize the emotional stages people go through during times of transition, it is even more important to take a pro-active stance to not only support them but also to empower them to be part of co-creating a new identity that accelerates their adoption of new ways of operating. This is helpful for the employee, their manager, the company leadership, and even contributes to the bottom line.
At CCI Consulting, we find that taking a dynamic approach to addressing the needs of employees immediately after a transition or major change facilitates building a new sense of purpose and a willingness to plan for success. Our work with clients as they manage the staff transition process is enhanced when we also assist employees and managers through the complex challenges they face by addressing employees’ feelings of confusion and anxiety, resistance to change and loss of engagement.
For companies addressing staff reductions, we offer the S.E.T.™ Program. Our S.E.T.™ Program is designed for leaders, managers, and employees handling staff reductions or organizational reorganizations as a result of system wide change initiatives, including integration strategies. S.E.T. stands for Strengthen | Engage | Transform, and through the Program employees are empowered to create ownership and accountability for successfully managing change and navigating through the transition.
There are two workshops that strengthen those who remain after a staff reduction with a focus on how to best engage their teams to successfully navigate the process of change, and transform employees to be more receptive to and embracing of the change they are experiencing, as well as be more productive and positive in their outlook of their role in the future of the organization. Each workshop addresses the unique experience of the employee; those experiencing the change and those experiencing change while simultaneously leading others through it.
Companies that recognize how important it is to address the needs of employees who remain after a significant staff transition understand that rebuilding a strong community is both art and science. People constantly adapt to incremental change but the emotional response and disruption of relationships can inhibit their progress. For business, we know that anything that erodes relationships erodes performance. Addressing this head-on will empower employees to form new relationships, new teams, and new accountability structures needed for the organization to get S.E.T.™ to move forward.
Adena E. Johnston, MA, MSOD, ACC
Vice President & Practice Leader, Talent Development