How to cope during times of change and uncertainty

Most organisations will undergo periods of change and uncertainty at some point. Mergers, acquisitions, new management and leadership are some of the dynamics that can lead to change. Helene Vermaak, Director at The Human Edge says that if organisations adopt an approach of silence, they create a significant risk to the continued success of the organisation during times of change.

“Silence creates gaps and inevitably these gaps will be filled with rumours, personal views and opinions rather than facts.”

Dynamics affecting employees and organisations

The realities that affect employees and the organisation require a proactive and defined approach. Employees will generally feel a sense of loss, an increase in uncertainty, a deterioration of trust and self-preservation through this process. As an organisation, these dynamics can affect the company’s productivity and continued success.

Typical organisations experience a deterioration of communication, momentum loss, power struggles, loss of commitment and finally a loss of talent. “Even though these forces are predictable, they will become lethal unless they are managed correctly,” warns Vermaak. “Communication is always necessary but it becomes vital during times of change.”

Crucial conversations need to be occurring:

The right crucial conversations need to happen so as to avoid silence and the risks associated with a lack of communication. Vermaak explains that when employees have concerns but do not feel that they are able to speak up, their concerns will fester and lead to frustration and finally, ‘corridor violence’.

She defines corridor violence as employees fuelling rumours which will result in overall resistance, apathy, disengagement, non-performance and a lack of accountability. “It is imperative that management creates opportunities for regular employee interaction and conversations within a safe environment so as to avoid this.”

Phases that employees experience during change

In order to manage the organisation’s relationship with employees and to bridge the gap, the communication needs to deal with the four phases employees typically experience while change is occurring. During the betrayal and denial phase communication should be information orientated, clearly conveying details of what changes the organisation will be undergoing.

Thirdly, employees will experience an identity crisis phase and to see employees through this, management needs to convey support messaging. Lastly when employees reach the final search for the solutions phase, now is the time to share inspirational orientated messaging and to communicate a vision of the organisation’s future.

Leadership teams need to be conscious of the dynamics that their organisation and employees will undergo and to address this effectively, while ensuring that they are engaged throughout each process. Vermaak concludes, “The majority of people resist change however by applying the correct communication processes, a change can be successful for the organisation and employees.”