I had coffee with a friend this week who has been going through a large amount of organizational change at his work place. As a result of the reorganization, he not only has less responsibility but all of his direct reports were moved to a newly formed department. He is still doing what he was doing, but the organization is now a matrix. The people that were there before are still there, but doing different things with different teams and different management structures.
There are a lot of things that we know about the organizational change process and many of these are pretty predictable. So much so that my friend commented during one of my observations that on the one hand it is reassuring to know that what his company is going through follows a path that is not as unique as it feels. On the other hand, the fact that it is predictable does nothing to make it less painful.
I thought about this and realized that, saying the impact of organizational change is a known factor and predictable only tells the story at the macro level. When we are talking about change at a conceptual level, scholars of organizational psychology and behavior can get pretty darn close about what is likely to happen and when it is likely to happen depending on the actions taken. But as soon as you take the impact of change to the individual level, we cannot predict that at all.
As a leader, this is crucially important for you to remember. Regardless of how resilient and flexible you are, and how strong the case for change is, you are likely to have no idea how change FEELS to your individual employees. You aren’t at the dinner table when the family is discussing their concerns and anxieties. You are unaware that college decisions are being made for a teenager in one of your employee’s homes and now the concern about financial impacts is keeping your employee awake at night. And that team you have developed over the years and take such pride in? They also take pride in not only their output but in their relationships. Concern over what happens to these relationships after an organizational change takes place is highly valid, very personal and overwhelmingly intense.
If you think this is all “soft stuff,” think again. Yes it is about feelings. But feelings directly influence commitment and commitment directly influences behavior. An important way to have a positive impact in this situation is to be as honest, transparent and respectful as you can. While organizational change often creates winners and losers, both are human. And the losers deserve as much respect and attention as the winners. Maybe even more.