A brief guide to best practice in handling change...

OK so you consider yourself a good manager - you're fair, pretty patient and try to treat your staff well. So what happens when things that are running along nicely, need to change?  Do you present the new arrangements as a "fait accompli" expecting your team to get alongside the new thing and simply fall into line?

Let's unpack a little of what is happening here.  Perhaps the 'new thing' has been put in place by your manager, or maybe shareholders have forced your hand.  At whatever level you're operating you will have known about the changes before your team.  So you've had more chance to assimilate what needs to happen, to think through the implications, and work out what it'll mean for you.

Some part of what's new will not be negotiable, but other aspects will be.  We also know that teams work well when they understand what the organisation or company is trying to do, and why.

Here's a very simple model for getting your team to engage with the new idea/process/system/project, that’s useful for dealing with both minor and major changes.

Most managers are pretty good at explaining what the actual change is all about.  They can also say why it is necessary.  Assuming it's been thought-through, the various stages of how the change is to be achieved are also easily understood.  BUT what most managers fail to do is explain the part that can be played by the staff who will be affected by the change.  This omission is likely to be the most significant reason why change management projects fail.

Here's a very simple example.
WHAT - Company A decides it will move its HQ to new offices on the other side of town.
WHY - There is a break clause in the lease on their building, and there will be 20% more staff next year. The organisation has outgrown its premises.
HOW - A small team is working on the move and has already identified a suitable building on the other side of town.  Phased movement of admin and back office staff will begin in three months, to be completed in six.
PART TO PLAY - staff affected by the move are consulted about layout, furniture, decor and support facilities such as kitchen and rest areas.

WHAT is not negotiable by the staff affected by the move.  The WHY is easily understood in this example, and the HOW has to be under the control of a small group able to organise the move.
But there is a part of this change which can involve the staff affected by the relocation.  They know best how the various traffic flows and back office functions operate and securing their involvement in getting this right, provides a real win in terms of employee engagement.

And something a little more complex...
WHAT - The Clinical Commissioning Group at an NHS Trust decides that the existing five patient complaint panels should be reduced to two.  
WHY - The cost of administering five separate panels is too expensive.
HOW - Driven by the need to balance the budget, managers have set a timeframe of nine months for the new arrangements to come into effect.

Whilst less than delighted by the prospect, the local patient support group recognises that costs have to be contained but is concerned that the two panels proposed may not have enough time to deal with cases as thoroughly.

Managers are clear about the reasons for the change and decide to consult the members of all five panels about
HOW the process can be achieved, taking into account the support group's views.

In this example, there is clarity about what needs to be achieved and the reasons why, but both the
HOW and the PART TO PLAY are to be decided after considering the opinions of those already involved with the existing panels...

So the key decisions of
WHAT and WHY are not negotiable, but the HOW and the PART TO PLAY may both be.

How you present what's new to your team will make the difference between success and abject failure; the difference between compliance and engagement.  And we all know that employee engagement beats simple compliance hands down, especially if you're involved in something like customer service!

David Parkinson