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Death of a loved one, moving house, getting married; all score highly on the list of life events which can lead to stress. From a work perspective, changing jobs or being made redundant are also fairly high on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale; but what happens when the job changes around you? Do employers pay sufficient attention to the upheaval which can result from a change of leader or of a change in working patterns?
When leaders change, there inevitably follows a burst of new broom sweeping clean. Some will wait a while, taking time to identify key cultures and processes before acting whilst others will leap straight in to the fray. And admittedly there are times, such as in a failing company, when drastic and swift action is required. But whatever the leadership style, whatever the reason for their appointment, it is in the nature of leaders to look to stamp their own mark on the organisation and that invariably means change.
Now here we feel that we should stress that we are not anti-change. Change is good, change is necessary if businesses are to grow and to develop. At every stage in its life a business will need a different type of leader; from entrepreneur to developer and from national to international stage; and, with a very few exceptions, those changes will not just require a new style of leadership but a new leader altogether. So we are not against changes of leader and as company culture thought leaders we are certainly not against a change in leadership style.
But the danger is that when a new leader starts to make changes, insufficient thought is given to the effect of those changes on employees. Yes, perhaps if a radical change of direction towards an agile or innovation culture is on the cards, some thought may have been given to engaging the employees in the new way of thinking. But when the change is less drastic, such as a re-organisation of departments or of reporting lines; on far too many occasions no thought whatsoever is given to the effect on employees. And yet in many instances for the employees the change is profound and disturbing; far more so in fact than had they changed jobs.
In an instant all of the old familiarity has been swept away. The familiar team leader has gone, the person who quickly gave answers to problems and moved projects on has vanished, as has the decision maker or the finance or IT person who understood what was required to cut through process and bring results. Internal directories don’t show the changes or are stuffed with unfamiliar titles. The result: work slows, errors creep in, confusion reigns and stress related illness abounds.
Sounds familiar? You are not alone. We’ve seen far too many businesses falter and fail because change has not encompassed the people element. Businesses which impose, businesses which dictate, business leaders who are so bound up in making change that they forget the people on whom the greatest burden falls.
Of course it doesn’t have to be like that. Listening to a talk recently one of our colleagues reported back on the total enthusiasm with which the speaker had embraced a change of leadership. Phrases such as ‘understands the business’, ‘values how we have to work in a strong team scenario’, ‘full of ideas’, ‘supports our drive to make the most of technology’ sprinkled the talk. What emerged was a picture of a new leader who had engaged hearts and minds to such an extent that whatever changes were required were going to be met with open arms.
All it takes is some thought; some acknowledgement and awareness at the planning stage that people will be affected by change. Get it right and your employees will follow you anywhere. Get it wrong and employees will become stressed and disheartened, plans will fail, and so eventually will the organisation.