Managing change in the workplace

Modern organisations are constantly changing. Many factors prompt change in the workplace, such as:

  • Pressure to compete in the external environment
  • New government legislation
  • Changes in leadership
  • Changes in technology, processes or systems
  • Responding to shifts in customer demand
  • Organisational mergers or acquisitions
  • Continuous improvement

Change management models

There are many change management models available to help organisations manage the change process. Three of the most well-known strategies are those developed by Kotter, Lewin, and McKinsey.

Kotter’s model is an 8-step process where a sense of urgency is used to facilitate change. The 8 steps are:

  • Establish a sense of urgency for the change
  • Create a team to guide the change
  • Create a change vision
  • Communicate the need to change
  • Empower people to change
  • Set short-term targets
  • Be determined
  • Establish the change

Lewin's model is a 3-stage process of managing change in the workplace. The 3 stages are:

  • Unfreezing - overcoming resistance to change
  • Changing - the transition phase
  • Freezing - returning to stability

Lewin's change process informs strategies such as the Prosci ADKAR model.

The McKinsey 7S Framework is a holistic approach wherein 7 interdependent elements are aligned to support effective change. The 7 elements are:

  • Strategy
  • Structure
  • Systems
  • Shared values
  • Skills
  • Style
  • Staff

Management of change

There are common themes which emerge in organisations which are managing change. Correspondingly, there are common strategies available for those who are managing transition and managing through change. In this section we give you tips on leading and managing change.

Resistance to change is a natural reaction to change in the workplace. Reasons for resistance may include uncertainty, fear of change, absence of control, and lack of engagement. Types of resistance include resistance to the process of change (e.g. the way that change is managed) and resistance to the content of change (e.g. changes to specific procedures or technologies).

Union involvement in the management of change can:

  • Help protect the interests of the workforce
  • Reduce resistance by facilitating consultation
  • Support staff in coping with change
  • Encourage communication and training on changes

At the organisational level, change affects all staff, and buy-in from staff is critical to the success of the process. Effectively managing change at this level typically involves:

  • A coherent strategy
  • Employees recognising the need for change
  • Effective communication about the change
  • Implementing new systems and processes to support the change
  • Staff training on changes
  • Effective leadership

Change affects people at all levels of an organisation, and managers may need to seek support in managing at the speed of change.

At the team level, a team leader should:

  • Treat the change process as a project to be planned and managed
  • Seek to refresh their own change management skills
  • Engage with the team early and honestly
  • Keep the team informed and involved
  • Encourage the team to raise problems and issues
  • Be open about concerns and fears
  • Facilitate feedback to management
  • Identify the effects of planned changes on the team
  • Monitor any issues arising within the team e.g. interpersonal relationships
  • Encourage the team to identify opportunities resulting from changes
  • Empower the team to make improvements
  • Identify and meet any training requirements within the team
  • Clarify and consolidate team objectives and processes

At the individual level, managers should:

  • Remember that each person reacts differently
  • Kept all individuals informed, including those on maternity or sick leave
  • Help individuals understand the rationale behind the change
  • Check individuals understand how the change will affect them
  • Be honest and realistic
  • Ensure individuals understand what is expected of them
  • Explain the opportunities available
  • Check availability of relevant training
  • Ensure individuals have access to support within their team e.g. from their line manger
  • Check individuals have access to support outside their team e.g. counselling

Change and you

In this section we give you tips on managing change as an individual.

Change in the workplace may involve practical changes to your:

  • Job description
  • Level of responsibility
  • Pay
  • Working hours
  • Other terms of employment

Organisational change may include less tangible changes to your:

  • Opportunities to use favoured skills
  • Opportunities to do certain types of work
  • Power to use your initiative
  • Team makeup
  • Other expectations about your job

Change can be challenging and distressing, but it also presents opportunities. Here are some tips on successfully coping with change:

  • Be prepared. Pay attention to talk about change. Understand what's happening, how it may affect you, and what opportunities may be available.
  • Prepare more. Consider the worst case scenarios and take steps to reduce their impact e.g. doing training, updating your CV.
  • Accept the reality - and inevitability - of change.
  • Adjust your expectations.
  • Control yourself. You can’t control change - but you can decide how you react to it.
  • Empower yourself. Identify and use your resources, skills, strengths, and support network.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Change can be an emotional time - but stay on top of practical matters.
  • Take your time. Too much change too quickly can be stressful and disorienting. Going slow is an essential coping strategy.
  • See change as opportunity. Change brings advantages as well as disadvantages.
  • Re-examine your priorities. Change is a chance to reflect and re-evaluate. You could choose a new direction - or renew your existing goals.
  • Adapt to your new situation. You may need to replace old habits and routines with new ones.
  • Learn from your experience of change.

For more information and assistance on managing change in the workplace listen to Prospect’s free podcasts on 'Personal Transition'. These podcasts give you an insight into how to use change and learn from it.