Understanding and Leading Staff through Organizational Changes

Understanding and Leading Staff through
Organizational Changes
Workshop Overview
Some people welcome change. Others are more cautious and wonder how change
will impact them personally. For some people the ambiguity of change creates
significant stress and even fear. During organizational change, it is the job of
managers to help their staff successfully navigate changes in policy and operations
and how that impacts expectations for staff and the work they do.
Some administrators and managers may have recently joined the organization, and
others have been through several transformational changes over many decades.
Taking into consideration the varying levels of experience of participants, this
workshop will give leaders an opportunity to reflect on lessons they have learned
about themselves and their teams in relation to their reactions to change.
We will also talk about the role of administrators and managers in communicating
with staff about change. In order to be a learning organization, it is important for
managers to be effective “information transmitters”- including receiving information
from central office, sending information to line staff, and then closing the loop by
sending line staff feedback back to central office.
In this workshop, participants will have an opportunity to work with other managers
to develop a short-term plan for delivering routine communications with staff and
sharing their feedback with central office in support of their role as information
Ag e n d a
O bj e c t i v e
Module Ice Breaker
I understand what to expect from this
workshop, including why this topic is
10 min
Section 1:
Understanding Our
Personal Capacity for
I have reflected what I’ve learned about
change in the past year or so.
I understand how my staff respond to
I understand image shift and how that
affects messages I receive and send.
25 min
Section 2:Tuning into
Staff- The role of
management in
I understand my role in communicating
with staff about change.
15 min
Section 3:
Communications Plan
Group Exercise
I have a routine staff communications
plan for my office.
30 min
10 min
Navigating Transitions
Change is all around us, pushing us, making demands, and offering opportunities.
We ignore making the transitions associated with change – or choose not to respond
to it at our peril. Effectively leading staff through transition requires managers to
anticipate the impacts of the change, to be flexible in the face of changes in the
organization’s culture, adapting to changing needs of customers, new mandates and
new business requirements, and developing their ability to deal with seemingly
constant change.
This workshop is designed to provide you with tools and techniques so that you can
plan for change and lead transitions effectively within your “sphere of influence” in
your particular office. We address issues that affect your ability and the ability of the
people around you to be successful in developing a resilient and adaptive attitude
and culture. The goal is to help you move through transitions in healthy and
productive ways and to help those around you who are struggling with change to
follow your example.
To do this requires an understanding the human side of change and some of the
basic requirements for helping others successfully navigate transitions. That is the
focus of this workshop.
Change is the law of
life. And those who
look only to the past
or present are certain
to miss the future.
John F. Kennedy
Understanding Our Individual Experience with
The key to your universe is that you can choose.
— Carl Frederick
Understanding Your Response to
and Capacity for Change
Change occurs all around us and in many facets of our life – personal, family,
professional, community, and world. Understanding our personal experiences of
change enhances our ability to understand our current reality. To realize our full
capacity for change, we must build awareness of how our attitudes and responses
to change affect and influence our relationships
and larger group dynamics.
Any change, even
For example, leaders are called upon to help
their organizations navigate the social
a change for the
implications of significant technology changes,
better, is always
embrace the complexities and opportunities of
accompanied by
business process changes, move from a reliance
on control to an emphasis on teamwork, and to
drawbacks and
augment technical skills with greater emotional
and relationship ones.
Your own personal experience of change
—Arnold Bennett
profoundly affects how you approach and lead
change. It is helpful to begin by reflecting on your
experiences, choices, and subsequent
assumptions about change. This is a useful way
to uncover your strengths and blind spots in managing yourself and leading others.
If you tend to think about change at a rational and structural level, you may be
blindsided by your own unacknowledged emotions. You may also fail to address
the human needs of the people who are impacted by a change. Increasing your
self-awareness will help you identify areas for your own growth and help you lead
change with greater compassion, conviction, and courage. It also helps you
understand how others react to change and how you can help them transition.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you don’t have time to attend to all of
the aspects of change. However, failing to do so will ultimately plague your
organization in the form of low morale, low trust, and low performance.
What Have You Learned about Change?
During the past year or more in your agency you have experienced a lot of
changes. What have you learned about your own reaction to organizational
change, and the reactions of your staff?
1. Reflect individually and make a list of lessons learned.
2. Share with a partner and from both of your lists choose two most
important, surprising, or helpful lessons.
3. Write the two lessons on half sheets of paper so they can be posted on
the wall.
4. Large Group Discussion:
What were your lessons learned?
What similarities or differences do you notice in the lessons shared on the
What do these lessons say about the importance of communicating with
staff during periods of change?
What will you do differently in the future based on your lessons learned?
Understanding Your Preferred Response
to Change
Accept structure
Prefer that change is incremental
Explore structure
Prefer that change is functional
Challenge structure
Prefer that change is expansive
Contributions of the 3 Styles During Change
Get things done on schedule
Willing to address the needs
of the organization as they
Understand complex problems
Work well within
organizational structure
Get things done in spite of
rules, not because of them
Bring strong design and
conceptual skills
Attend to detail and factual
Negotiate and encourage
cooperation and compromise
to get problems solved
Push the organization to
understand the system as a
Demonstrate strong followthrough skills
Take a realistic and practical
Support and encourage risktaking behavior
Encourage and adhere to
Draw people together around
a common purpose
Provide future-oriented
insights and vision for the
Respect rules and authority
Organize ideas into action
Serve as catalysts for change
Handle day-to-day operations
Have short-term and long-term
Initiate new ideas, projects,
and activities
Source: Change Style Indicator: Discovery Learning, 2000
Self-Reflection: What is your preferred response to change? In which
category do you see yourself?
Potential Pitfalls of the 3 Styles During Change
May be rigid in thought and
May be indecisive and
May not adjust vision to facts,
logic, or practicalities of
May discourage innovation by
promoting existing rules and
May not promote ideas and
properties enough
May be lost in theory
May not see beyond the
present details to understand
the broader strategic context
May try to please too many
people at the same time
May overextend themselves –
moving on to new projects
without completing them
May delay completion of task
because of perfectionism
May appear to be
May not adapt well to policies
and procedures
May delay action too long by
overly reflecting on situation
May be easily influenced
May appear unyielding and
discourage others from
challenging them
May appear unyielding and set
in ways
May negotiate compromise
that is too middle of the road
May ignore the impact of ideas
on system and people
May over focus on small
May wait for others to decide
before taking action
May overlook relevant details
Source: Change Style Indicator: Discovery Learning, 2000
Self-Reflection: Have you ever faced any of these pitfalls in dealing with
change? How did you overcome the pitfalls?
Increasing Your Change Style Flexibility
The following are suggestions for increasing your
flexibility in your change style and avoiding pitfalls:
 Consult with a person you believe to have
a different style than yours before
 Make efforts to understand the
perspectives of styles other than yours.
 Imagine putting on a hat of another style.
True stability results when
presumed order and
presumed disorder are
balanced. A truly stable
system expects the
unexpected, is prepared to be
disrupted, and waits to be
Tom Robbins
 Step back and be aware of your initial
reaction in a situation, especially when you
are aware of responding emotionally.
Understanding How Our Brains Receive
Using knowledge of how our brains process information can also help managers
understand how to help their staff navigate change.
In 1956, Kenneth E. Boulding- an economist and social scientist- developed a
new theory about individual behavior and social dynamics called the “image shift”
theory. There are five key points to his theory, which was the foundation of
modern research on organizational change:
1. Everyone operates out of images.
2. Those images govern our behavior.
3. Messages we receive shape our images, and we filter those messages
through our “value screens”.
4. Images can be changed.
5. Changed images change behavior.
What I have been talking about is knowledge. Knowledge, perhaps, is
not a good word for this. Perhaps one would rather say my image of
the world. Knowledge has an implication of validity, of truth. What I
am talking about is what I believe to be true; my subjective knowledge.
It is this Image that largely governs my behavior.
-Kenneth E. Boulding
Although Dr. Boulding’s work dates from the 1950’s, recent research on how our
brains process information supports his theory of image shift.
The Triune Brain:
1. The Unconscious Mind or “autonomic brain” governs our involuntary
systems and develops in utero.
2. The Subconscious Mind or “feeling brain” develops from birth.
3. The Conscious Mind or “thinking brain” begins to develop around the age
of 18 months as we form language.
Our brains gather information, or messages, from our five senses- sight, sound,
touch, smell, and taste. Since before birth our brains have developed pathways
specialized for each type of message, including visual pathways, auditory
pathways, and kinesthetic pathways.
Our Conscious Mind- or neocortex- processes approximately 40 bits of
information per second. Amazingly, or Subconscious Mind takes in about 20
million bits of information per second. In order for our Subconscious Mind to
cope with volume of messages it receives, it bundles information and stores it
away as “images” or mental models. Over time, an image or mental model of
something is created from our past experiences and that affects our behavior.
Mental models are the vehicle for all we experience and define how we see
As we receive new messages, the image we have of that thing is likely to be
changed to some degree. When we receive a message, we can have many
possible responses:
Congruent messages: Sometimes we receive a message that fits with our
mental model and it reinforces our view of the world. It may even expand our
understanding and add to our mental model.
Unperceived messages: Sometimes we are sent messages that don’t even
register with us. Our perceptions don’t pick it up. This is an area of current
research about inattentional blindness- or our tendency to miss things right
before our eyes because of our mental models. We notice what we are cued to
notice by the context and our images of the world.
Incongruent messages: Some messages conflict with our mental model or
worldview. When this happens, we have a choice. We can dismiss the
message to preserve our image of the world. We can feel doubt, which causes
us to seek more information and may lead to a change, or we can
accommodate the new message and change our image of the world in subtle
or transformational ways.
Implications of Image Shift Theory for Leading Staff Through
Organizational Change
 Begin to see yourself as an “image shifter”, supporting your staff’s learning
and behavior change.
 Keep in mind the power of “value filters” and how they affect the new
messages staff receive about the change. We can’t assume that our staff
sees the world the way we do.
 Only an individual or a group itself can choose to change. We can’t direct
someone to change their image of the world- we can only introduce new
information that makes them think.
Additional Resources:
1. Boulding, Kenneth E., The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society, Ann
Arbor. The University of Michigan Press, 1956.
2. Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning
organization, Doubleday, New York, 1990.
3. Argyris, Chris, Knowledge for Action: a Guide to Overcoming Barriers to
Organizational Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Individual Learning Styles and Change
Learning styles are broadly defined as one of the three primary ways in which a
person can learn. Those include visual (sight), auditory (sound), and kinesthetic
(actions/touch). An individual's preferred or best process by which they will learn
is typically through one or a combination of these styles. In a more general
sense, learning styles can include elements of the environment including their
optimal time of day, lighting in the room, temperature of the room, etc. They also
include a person's own emotionality, physical needs, and sociological needs.
Visual learners typically learn best through sight, through visual representation,
or visual aids. These learners love charts, graphs, notes, handouts, and any
other visually stimulating media. Visual learners can learn it if they can see it.
Auditory learners learn best by hearing or through verbal communication. They
simply prefer to hear an auditory representation of information to learn it. Auditory
components such as tone, pitch, and loudness are all important to these
learners. These learners are excellent at remembering information that they hear.
Kinesthetic learners are sometimes referred to as tactile learners. This type of
learner typically learns best through a hands-on approach specifically through
touching or doing. Kinesthetic learners love to work with their hands, manipulate
objects, and take a more active approach to learning in general. These learners
typically have a short attention span if they are not able to use a hands-on
approach. A majority of learners are kinesthetic learners.
In the world of work, there is widening recognition of the need to capitalize on
different learning styles within organizations. According to Dudley Lynch, in Your
High Performance Business Brain, "we can use this powerful new way of
understanding people to design better organizations, ... do a more effective and
productive job of hiring and placing people, and to frame our management
messages so that they can penetrate the natural filters of the mind."
Large Group Discussion:
4. What is your preferred learning style? How about your staff?
5. As a manager, how can you create messages for your staff so they meet
the needs of their varied learning styles?
6. What are some examples of messages for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic
Tuning in to Staff: The Role of Management in
Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask
anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take
delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of
existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the
premise of our philosophy.
- W. Somerset Maugham
The Razor’s Edge
How Leaders Can Successfully Lead
Organizational Change
Organizations must address both the business and people sides of change in
order to be successful. In a recent study of more than 300 organizations
undergoing major business change, the number one reason for project failures or
delays was failure to manage the people side of change. Being ready for
change goes beyond wanting employees to feel good about the change. It is
about helping them to understand, learn and demonstrate the new skills and
behaviors that will be required for the project or change effort to be successful.
To successfully implement change requires the acceptance of those who will
endure and have to sustain the change. People are not likely to change because
you tell them to. People will consider making changes if the following are true:
The changes fit with their own personal value system. Many
employees in public service place a high value on helping their clients
obtain the help and services they need. If they believe the changes will
ultimately benefit their clients or customers, they are more likely to support
the changes. You must clearly explain what the new or revised process or
system will accomplish, and who will benefit and how.
People feel involved in the change and have time to adapt. People
can't just drop everything and change or learn new skills just because their
boss says so. Even if they want to change and learn new skills, they have
a whole range of issues that keep them fully occupied for most of their
day. Involving people early in the discussion about the design and
development of the new process or system gives you and your employees
a chance to understand the implications and feasibility of the upcoming
change(s). You are empowering them to participate in the change by
encouraging them to offer ideas even better than you might have
Helping employees understand, accept, support and be directly involved in the
change so that it is successful and sustained over time requires a carefully
planned and executed strategy that involves people at every stage. When
people feel they are valued participants in planning and implementing
change, they are more likely to be motivated to make the change
successful. Even if they have no choice about whether to implement the new
initiative, they can still have an impact on how it is accomplished.
Your Role in Leading Change
Your role as a manager, supervisor or lead worker is, at a minimum, to enlist
others to participate in or, at the least, not to hinder the change effort. To be a
leader of change is to assume a much larger role – to inspire, persevere, reduce
ambiguity, and provide the opportunity for people to engage, participate, and
prepare. In successful change efforts, an organization’s leaders:
 Provide the vision and a sense of urgency and are out front
communicating it.
 Support the change by answering the concerns raised by individuals as to
how a change will impact them personally and professionally.
 Involve others in designing and implementing the change process.
 Provide individuals with the tools, training, and time to learn the changes
and incorporate them into a job, business unit, or division.
 Provide feedback throughout the transition process to the leaders
sponsoring the change so that appropriate interventions and course
corrections can be made along the way to the desired goal.
Central Office and Local Office
Regional/Local Managers and
Lead and champion the change
Champion the change – get engaged
Live, lead, and model the behaviors and
attitudes that are supportive of change
Live, lead, and model the behaviors
and attitudes that are supportive of
Help direct-report managers understand
what’s coming
Prepare and coach staff
Communicate the vision frequently and
Communicate the vision frequently and
Be the conduit for determining what
managers and staff need to be successful
Listen to and report on what staff are
saying – be the voice of the field/end
Anticipate problems and make it safe for line
managers and leads to escalate issues
Understand current business
processes and techniques for
improving processes
Central Office and Local Office
Regional/Local Managers and
Provide data and input to executives so they
understand the impacts and implications of
Escalate issues so barriers, challenges,
and concerns can be addressed quickly
Encourage feedback about the changes to
determine what is working/not working
Correct misinformation and
The Importance of Communication
How do you lead people through a transition process and the changes that are
driving it? A key to avoiding a failed change initiative is to invest significantly in
communication to everyone who is affected by the change. But what exactly do
you need to communicate?
1. A clear vision for the change: what will be different for us and the
people we serve; how our processes and way of doing business will be
2. The purpose of the change: what is driving the need for change.
3. A broad overview of how the organization will transition to the future
state: what will change and when the changes will occur.
4. The role that each person will play in making the changes: how
employees’ day-to-day activities will be affected.
5. An awareness of different communication/interaction styles, some of
which are culturally based.
6. The tools and support that will be provided along the way.
7. How people can get more information about the change.
8. Where to go with questions and how to offer feedback.
9. The specific timeline for the change and the immediate next steps.
Your Staff Communication Plan
In the final analysis, change sticks when it
becomes the way we do things around here.
- John Kotter
Best Methods for Communicating
Research conducted on large-scale projects shows that the top-level executive
managers are the preferred senders when the message pertains to the
business need for change and the alignment of the change with the
organization’s overall direction. Employees’ supervisors are typically the
preferred senders of messages that pertain to the individual and work unit
level impacts of the change.
Recognize that people generally begin to understand the implications of
change only when they are partway through the transition. Be sure to talk
about their reactions throughout the process and let them talk about how they
feel, rather than trying to defend or sell the change.
The frequency and methods to communicate change in an organization or
business unit varies, but the rule of thumb during change is: You can’t over
communicate. Share messages more frequently than you think you need to
by a factor of 10. Below are some effective communication methods or channels
to use with staff:
Group meetings
Informal lunch
Communication Tips
The two most effective communication methods for
communicating change to employees are:
One-to-one or face-to-face discussions that are
honest, straightforward, and offer details of the
change on a personal level. Most employees
prefer personal interaction to reading
Small group meetings to share information,
brainstorm ideas and discuss new or changed
work processes.
Develop two-way
channels to improve
feedback and involvement. Don’t assume people understand – give them
opportunities to question and process the change and the new expectations that
accompany it. Provide opportunities, wherever possible, for employees to have
input into the changes as they are designed and developed.
Increase one-on-one communication with those directly impacted by the
change. Some people will need more coaching and personal attention to
understand the change and what it will mean for them.
Provide regular updates so that people can keep their transition process moving
along parallel with that of the overall change effort or project.
Embracing Your Role as an Information
Using the template on the following
pages, you have the next 20 minutes
to plan one routine communications
activity for your staff that could be
implemented in the next 30 days.
Examples of the types events you
might want to communicate about
could include: policy briefs,
clarifications and reminders and NC
FAST post card information.
1. Work on template with
instructions individually.
2. Share with partner, get
feedback, and make
adjustments as appropriate.
3. Write title of activity on card and
share on wall.
Communications Plan Template
What is the routine
information or event you
are going to transmit to
What is the current image
your audience has about the
topic? How will that image
need to shift?
Current Image
What messages will
reinforce the new
information and image?
Auditory Messages
New image
Visual Messages
Remember: Messages aren’t
just words. Can also be
pictures, sounds, and physical
When, during the next 30
days, will you begin your
communication efforts?
How often and when will you
repeat the messages?
Where will you
communicate the
When will you start and how
often will you repeat?
How will you gather
feedback from staff and
relay it to central office?
Feedback Loop & Support Needed
What will you need to
support your
communication plan?
Communications Checklist
 Did you answer the question “why is this change happening?”
When people learn about a change, their first question is “why?” Acceptance of, and
participation in change increases when people know why it is happening. It is important to
reinforce the “why” throughout the entire project, especially if there are large time lapses
between communication events.
 Did you answer the question “what are the benefits and how does the change
affect me?”
After communicating the “why” about change, the next question people have is “how will
this affect me personally?” To gain support from the people who must participate in
change, it is important to provide a compelling case about how the participants will be
better off or what they will get out of engaging in change.
 Are you using the right channel to deliver communication?
Research shows that employees prefer to hear messages from two people in the
organization – the leaders of the organization (for messages about the business issues and
reasons for change) and their immediate supervisor (for messages about the personal
impact of change.)
 Are you using face-to-face communication?
This is the most effective form of communication. While it is more time intensive, it is an
important component of a communications strategy around change.
 Are you creating opportunities for two-way communication?
People need the opportunity to share concerns, provide feedback and ask questions. Twoway communication creates buy-in and provides answers in real-time.
 Are you repeating key messages five to seven times?
When change is first announced, people are usually focused on how it will affect them
personally and will not pay attention to the details of the change. Repeating key messages
is essential to ensure that what you want to get across is being heard. Err on the side of
 Are you using effective ways to reach employees?
The best communications approach uses a variety of channels to reach people –
newsletters, presentations, one-on-one, meetings, intranet, Q&A forums, workshops,
brainstorming sessions, etc.
Large Group Discussion:
What’s one new idea you remember from the workshop?
What stood out? What made most sense to you?
How will this help you help your staff navigate change?
What would help support your action plan?