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Passage - getting from here to there during change.

"Everybody's gotta be someplace." This basic truism tells a little bit about where we and our employees may be in the change process - someplace. Having the whole team in exactly the same place on the trip from the old, through passage, to the new is desirable, but, in most cases, synchronicity is just wishful thinking. The responsibility of managers during change is to accept wherever their people are on the journey and to provide the support the employees need to move safely to the next step.

Obviously passage between the old and the new is an essential step, but unfortunately some managers do not view passage as a manageable element and so passage is ignored. "The old is gone, long live the new!" is the battle cry of those soon to be confused and dismayed by change.

When passage itself is managed, that transition becomes a more productive time and the employees feel more comfortable with the new situation.

What do employees in a changing organization want from their managers during passage?

* COMMUNICATION: "Just tell me what in the heck is going on so I can make needed decisions based on my personal and business objectives."

Not knowing is often worse than knowing. Hearing rumors of terrible aspects of the change can lead to problems. Develop a "rumor hot line" to deal openly and honestly with each question that comes up. If you, as manager do not have the answer, or do not believe the answer you have, go as far up the organization as necessary to get a satisfactory answer.

Discourage negative talk concerning change. Sitting around creating a "whine list" is time consuming and will result in negative productivity.

Work even harder at being a good listener so you can hear exactly what are the concerns. Ask questions to clarify your understanding of what is being said. Repeat information to insure understanding.

Communicate the vision/mission so people will see that the substance of the job has not changed. Employees need to understand that "why" they are working has not changed. "How" they accomplish the "why" may be changing.

Require feedback from the employees as to how the passage to change is going. There is nothing quite as energizing in an organization as everyone communicating with each other.

* UNDERSTANDING: "Recognize what my rational and emotional concerns are. Don't rush me."

When managing people through change, consider the intensity of their emotional responses. Unfortunately the emotional issues are not as often addressed. That is the result of a history in most corporate cultures only rewarding the rational response.

Dealing with the rational issues, rather than the emotional, concerning change is easier and usually quicker and time is the last thing managers feel they have in abundant supply during periods of drastic change.

Accept where the employee is emotionally during the change process. Develop with your team a list of the pros and cons of the change. This technique may cause some unstated concern to surface. Then sit down together and eliminate as many cons as possible.

* BEHAVIORS: "What do I have to do in the new environment to be successful?"

Employees need to know specific, measurable, observable activities they can follow in the new conditions. Telling them to be flexible and innovative is not enough.

When the behaviors needed in the changing environment are clearly defined, understood and accepted, (this is called feedfront rather than the traditional, after-the-fact feedback) measure and reward those behaviors. What gets measured and rewarded gets done. Also makes sure the workers have the tools needed to get the job done during the passage to change.

* ROLE MODEL: "Boss, you look about ready to fall apart and you're telling me everything is all right!"

When you are providing a role for the group to model, be a model of a person who knows what his/her skills and strengths are, not of someone who has all the answers or has all the strengths and skills.

Try to react with calm as though change were the norm in your organization. Even if it has not been so in the past, change may well be the norm of the future.

* MUTUAL TRUST: "I want to believe what you say, but I never really felt I could trust you before."

All of the preceding wants can be more easily satisfied in a work relationship based on mutual trust. Unfortunately, mutual trust is not a condition that is running rampant down the hallways of corporations during periods of change. If mutual trust did not exist in the old environment, it may be able to be developed over time in the new, but you can be sure it will not flourish during passage.

Managers can engage in open communications with their people, tell them that they understand what they are going through, and outline all of the skills necessary to succeed in the new environment. A manager can walk around acting like "Mr. or Ms. Change," a super hero from whom people can derive courage. In other words a manager can do those activities that are needed and wanted at this time, BUT WITHOUT MUTUAL TRUST, WHAT IS THE POINT?

Maybe this lack of mutual trust is why passage is not always managed effectively. The basic ingredient is missing. Does that mean managers, if mutual trust is a quart low in their work units, should give up trying to manage during passage? No, but they should not be too disappointed if managing passage does not work well. Why should it? At the time workers are experiencing mental and maybe even physical trauma, the person who is there to help them through the tough times is someone they would not even put on their Christmas card list if they didn't think they had to!

So what should managers do? They need to get started developing trust in their work units right now. This might be only of minimal help during the current passage from the old to the new, but if the past serves as any indication of what is to come, another change series will be coming along soon.

A manager has to be very clear as to what are the important elements of a successful passage to a change. Is it more important to get all the desks moved and the telephones installed in the new location on time? Or is it more important to have the people associated with the change be comfortable with it and willing to put their total effort into a successful beginning.

Managers, during periods of accelerated change, have little time to spare, so it is important that the time is spent on the elements of the change that can most insure its success, not necessarily on the elements that can be handled, easily, quickly and with the most comfort.

Employees bring to the workplace differing beliefs concerning change in general, and their own chance of success in the new environment, in particular. The length of the passage is directly related to what the employee believes about his/her chance of success in the new venture. If a person is doing poorly in his/her job as it is currently structured and she/he sees the change as allowing his/her skills to be maximized, why would an individual choose to languish in the passage stage? Whereas if someone believes the opposite to be true,s/he would hang on to the old as long as possible, be dragged kicking and screaming into the passage stage and stay there until it appeared safe to come out. The manager's job is to intervene, to help create the environment where the worker will feel safe emerging into the "brave new world."

What does a manager need to do to create this safe environment in addition to realizing that the time of passage differs among people? To recap some of the basics of managing passage: create an environment of open communications, develop an environment of empathy by attempting to understand what the employee is going through, explain the behaviors you think the employee will need for success, provide a positive change role model, and generate an atmosphere of mutual trust which will ease this entire transition and have a beneficial effect on passage.

Tom Payne is the founder of LODESTAR, an Albuquerque, NM-based performance enhancement company. The following article is adapted from his book, FROM THE INSIDE OUT: How to Create and Survive a Culture of Change.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:management of change in corporate organizations
Author:Payne, Tom
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1991
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