Leading change as though individuals matter

I once worked for a multinational business who acquired a UK manufacturing organisation and I ran this acquisition whilst it was decided how to integrate it into the parent company.  The acquisition was based on a single site and one of the options was to integrate all the activities into existing operations and to close the site.  

Whilst the decision was being made, I was approached by someone who worked in the manufacturing area and he was responsible for one of the critical manufacturing operations.  He explained to me that he felt very uncomfortable waiting for a decision and so he had decided to look for alternative employment and he told me that he would leave once he found another job.  

I had a lot of sympathy for his decision.  I too feel uncomfortable when other people’s agendas control my decisions.  On the other hand, I had worked for the company long enough to know that he might be making a decision which was not in his best interests.  For example, I knew from other redundancy programmes that the redundancy terms would be very generous.  I also knew that if the parent company did decide to close the site, they would want to keep the manufacturing operations and therefore there would be a long period between the announcement being made and the manufacturing operations being transferred.  I therefore encouraged him to make an active decision to stay and to shape his future based along those lines.

Sadly, the time came when the decision was made to close the factory.  The announcement was made and the person I had spoken to had 6 months to work before the factory was closed.  He left with another job to go to and a generous redundancy package.  His decision to stay turned out to be in his best interests and those of his family.  I am sure in keeping with everyone else who worked there he would have liked the opportunity for the site to stay open and to have remained working there.  

As leaders of organisations, sometimes we can struggle to understand why the people who work for us, view our change proposals with suspicion and concern.  But this is very common as we all respond negatively to change which comes from other people.  There are 3 steps which we can take which will help to manage those early stages of change:

  1. We can explain why change is necessary by using a Need for Change statement.
  2. We can be clear about how our change proposals will address these issues which we have identified.
  3. We can create opportunities for individuals to be involved and to make choices for themselves.

If during the change process, we get an opportunity to talk to people individually we should be very careful to listen to their concerns and to take them seriously and to treat them with integrity.  We should also listen to any advice that they give us.  It might just be that we learn something which makes the change process more effective.

If you would like to know more about the emotions of the change process, please go to:

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