Change is challenging for most people, especially if they were not directly involved in decisions which may impact their jobs. Managing your people and workplace concerns during a period uncertainty is one of the most significant challenges to be faced by Leaders and HR practitioners.
However, wide scale change is a catalyst to cultural change.Your culture will change when there are changes to direction, structures and process.Culture is the outcome of these changes.It is an opportunity to be relished not one to be fawned.Grab it with both hands and travel with it, shape it.
While the change is occurring, times will be difficult.People are not always going to love the new direction straight away.Strong leadership is required.As the dust settles, a new culture will emerge.You want to ensure the culture shaped by the new processes will be one that enables the achievement of the organisations strategic direction.
In the time before the dust settles, careful planning, focused communication and support for your people is needed to maintain a level of calm.
Most people prefer a predictable and stable work environment. Quite naturally, during organisational change, such as an amalgamation or merger, there is a perceived winner and loser and as such, people fight against change. They fear it because it presents a threat to the way they have gone about their work, they fear losing control, they fear the consequences on their remuneration, they question their competence and often struggle with the increased workloads which accompany change processes. Conflict which may have been sizzling underneath or between people and teams will often surface during periods of organisational change. This conflict can become destructive if there isn’t a willingness to collaborate and work towards a solution.
Leaders and HR practitioners must be able to recognize the difference between healthy constructive and destructive conflict. According to Robbins and Judge (2009, Organisational Behaviour), ‘conflict is constructive when it improves the quality of decisions, stimulates creativity and innovation, encourages interest and curiosity among group members, provides the medium through which problems can be aired and tensions released, and fosters an environment of self-evaluation and change’. This is where new cultures are built.Conflict can be particularly destructive if it is suppressed. Resentment and tension can build and people can explode. Leaders need to be able to identify such conflict and intervene early to de-escalate it.Leaders need to be skilled to identify healthy conflict and support it.
As a leader you can facilitate and support a culture of a healthy response to workplace conflict by:
- Modelling, demonstrating and showing commitment to desired behaviours around communication.
- Talking with employees separately.Be a sounding board and encourage them to reflect on their concerns to ensure they have them in perspective. Work with them to determine if there are any changes they can make to the situation which may affect a change to the way it is operating.
- Getting people talking with each other to resolve differences. Leaders have a role in encouraging and supporting this through providing guidance and coaching on how to approach such difficult conversations.
- Taking action and addressing issues before it’s too late. The means leaders need to be prepared to have discussions with their teams and show a willingness to listen and understand issues and concerns as this can lead to increased insight, changed outlooks and the generation of solutions to problems.
- Setting clear expectations around roles and responsibilities and standards of behaviour and be prepared to have conversations when these are infringed.
- Undertaking a team building exercise to allow staff to become aware of and talk about their work preferences – this is often a source of conflict.
Conflict is inevitable and even more so when massive changes are thrust upon people. Managing conflict and workplace concerns which erupt during these times is a critical management function.