Managing workers through change critical to success

Blaming unfavorable agricultural and commodity prices, as well as “tepid” crude oil prices, an iconic Kern County ranch this spring announced layoffs and a reorganization. Just a few days later, a local grower and food processor announced moves to streamline its operation and reorganize.

By law, the grower-processor sent a letter to the Kern County Board of Supervisors announcing the “streamline” that could result in nearly 400 people being laid off. However, a company official told The Bakersfield Californian that only people who don’t accept transfers or shift changes will be pushed out of the company as it reorganizes to maintain its competitive edge.

The company official said he expects most of the employees affected by the layoffs to accept new jobs at other company job sites or accept layoff or early retirement packages.

“We’re really trying to do everything we can to make this as easy as possible on the people who work for us,” he said. “But this is what the company has to do to stay competitive.”

Whether it results in layoffs, reassignments or new job duties, change is inevitable in most companies and workplaces. During the Great Recession of 2008, we saw a massive upheaval as companies downsized merely to survive.

But in this increasingly competitive global economy, it does not take a recession or other economic development to require big and small companies to regularly “retool” themselves and require their workers to cope with change.

Change is an uncomfortable reality for those who demand it, as well as those who must comply. For the most positive outcomes, which enhance profitability, while motivating workers, company owners and managers must properly introduce and implement changes in their workplaces.

Some steps to successfully accomplish this include:

• Take employees into your confidence. Explain the need for change and the changes that will be implemented.

• Reassure employees. While you may not be able to say all jobs will be retained, ease concerns by explaining how changes and job reassignments will be handled. Assure employees you are confident in their abilities to implement changes and succeed.

• Watch and listen. Ask for employee suggestion and feedback. Allow employees to contribute their ideas. Encourage buy-in for the changes that will be made.

• Provide training. New jobs and new responsibilities often require training. Provide that training to help your employees succeed.

• Motivate employees. Money is always a good motivator, but it is not the only motivator. There may be simple, cost-effective workplace adjustments, such as flexible work schedules, that will motivate employees to embrace changes.

• Be positive. Present changes as exciting challenges. Explain that the changes are not only necessary, but good for the company and for its employees.

• Provide feedback. Compliment employees as they implement changes. Provide instruction when adjustments are required.

• Update employees. Regularly and frequently update employees on the progress being made in implementing changes and how the changes are improving the company’s performance.

Peter Senge, a renowned systems scientist and business lecturer, once observed, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”

Behavioral scientists note that humans are creatures of habit. They survived through routine and predictability. It is only natural that changes at work are among the top “life stressors” that a person can experience. A company that does not take this “human nature” into account and that forces change on employees who are not prepared to handle it risk alienating its workers, suffering financial loss and seeing promising strategic changes fail.

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