Remaining resilient in times like these requires forward thinking. Often when challenges arise, company leaders spend so much of their time and resources preparing for the major change that they don’t sufficiently plan for what will happen afterward.
Senior leaders and their learning partners must keep three key areas in mind as they navigate any major change: organizational design, leadership capabilities and employee engagement.
As an organization’s strategy shifts to respond to the change, so must its design. The design of an organization includes a number of important levers that work together to ensure the achievement of the organization’s strategy. These levers include: organizational structure, processes, metrics and reward systems, and people practices. These systems, working in harmony, create focus and harness the collective energy of the organization.
Realigning these key levers after a major organizational change is often not a top priority, as senior executives are typically focused on the bottom line, shareholder value and employee retention. While a full-scale redesign may not be possible or practical, organizations can begin bringing their systems back into alignment with the new reality by targeting three critical areas:
Values: Having a shared set of values provides a clear sense of purpose to employees and serves as the foundation on which to rebuild the house.
Goals: Once the foundation has been secured, leaders must ensure that everyone knows what needs to be done to stabilize and start rebuilding. Leaders need to communicate how the goals have changed — if they have — and how they link to the strategy.
Roles: Leaders must be clear with employees about how they fit into the newly defined organization. Do they have new roles and new people they need to interact with to do their jobs? Are their roles the same, but are they part of a different team? Have teams merged? Team leaders should understand the scope of change for each person on their team and be sure to clearly identify the level of change to enable maximum productivity.
Challenging times require a different type of leadership. There are five core leadership competencies critical to driving and enabling change. The logic behind these competencies is simple: a layoff, restructuring, or merger or acquisition causes major disruption, and leaders must focus their capabilities on a narrow list of priorities. The priorities include:
Setting direction: Leaders must define the focus for the organization and its people by restating the vision and ensuring that the sense of purpose is clear and articulated.
Aligning employees: Once leaders have set the course, they must make the goals, objectives and mission clear to employees to gain their support.
Motivating and inspiring people: Enduring a major change can be difficult for the remaining employees and may drain productivity. Leaders can motivate and inspire people by focusing on the organization’s future success.
Communicating: Change can be unsettling, but people will be more productive if they know what’s going on. Leaders must demonstrate strong communication skills and must be honest with employees about the changes in the organization.
Managing talent: Leaders must scrutinize the redefined organization’s talent needs and secure that talent.
While simple in theory, in practice, the focus and discipline required to successfully execute on these capabilities is not easy. In all likelihood, formal leadership development efforts are no longer practical. However, targeted coaching, action learning and on-the-job tools can help develop these competencies in real time and not only support leaders through the change, but strengthen their capabilities in the process.
During a workforce reduction, company leaders can be so focused on the employees they’re laying off that they overlook the impact of the change on those who stay. To survive and rebuild, it is vital for the organization to support its people and teams as changes occur.
One way to do this is by directly enlisting employees to play a role in shaping the future of the organization. Understand what they need to be more individually resilient and provide the training and support to build this capability. While often formed early in life, personal resiliency can be developed, and strengthening personal resilience enables organizational change to be absorbed with minimal impact on productivity and morale.
Leaders also can perform a quick pulse survey, asking employees to answer these key questions:
Do I know what is expected of me?
Do I have the right skills, abilities and potential?
Do I belong here?
How can I learn, grow or innovate?
Communication is also a vital component of employee engagement. Employees should be kept informed through regular communication, such as newsletters and manager round-tables. The communication channels should be two-way, open and honest, and frequent. The more information employees have, the less time they spend guessing about the direction of the company and the more time they have to focus on their work.
While there is no way to predict what changes might affect an organization in the future, leaders who prepare for the change — and its aftermath — will ensure their organizations can thrive through the challenges ahead.