Successful business change starts with engaged, supported and informed employees

As we continue our path out of lockdown, UK employers are facing very different challenges, which will inevitably result in some form of business change. Predominately these ‘drivers’ can be categorised into two sections: review and restructure and accelerated growth. Whilst these ‘drivers of business change’ are very different in their nature, the need to support, develop and engage employees across the organisation will be similar.


Driver one – review and restructure

For many organisations, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has seen and will continue to see a  ‘root and branch’ review of the organisation and its activities, combined with continued restructuring, uncertainty and, unsurprisingly, further change and potentially, redundancies.

Some sectors have been disproportionately impacted when compared to others and are unlikely ever to ‘get back to normal’. Too much has changed and the resultant ‘workarounds’ have altered the landscape for good. Whether that be a decline in high-street retail outlets, the likely reduction in business travel as companies successfully embraced a more virtual world, or an accelerating adoption of digital banking at the expense of the traditional high street branch model.

Organisations operating in these environments have had to quickly reassess how they work; often challenging the process and procedures that have long underpinned them. For many the speed of change required will have been too rapid and will result in cessation of activity – quite simply they will be unable to reinvent themselves quickly and will find that shutters drawn down in March 2020 will stay down. For others, the emergent future will take time to stabilise, however, as a result of a good product or service, demand will have be maintained and, through careful stewardship, successes will emerge.

Diver two – accelerating growth through M&A

In stark contrast, organisations that have been able to successfully weather the last 16 months are finding that significant new opportunities are emerging. With some organisations making record profits, dividends are back and the case, and appetite for further investment is strong.

Merger and acquisition activity has been at near record levels in some sectors since the later part of 2020 and shows little sign of slowing up in 2021. Indeed, research by EY shows that 57% of UK executives stated an intent to pursue M&A over the coming 12 months with 65% focusing on international activity (EY – 2021) – that’s a lot of potential change coming down the track.

Different drivers, familiar people challenges

Despite the reasons for organisational change being driven from two contrasting standpoints – the impact on employees within organisations is likely to be similar. Uncertainty, change fatigue, an impact on resilience and a focus on the change itself as opposed to the broader business need are common themes that emerge with any change. Unsurprisingly, organisations that fail to consider the personal impact of change frequently record large dips in productivity – something no business can afford, especially now. And coming so hard on the heels of the gradual return to work and the level of misgiving that many are feeling, these problems are easily exasperated. This is where leaders need to step in and use the power of storytelling; outlining their vision for the future and engaging employees around it

As has been well documented, the success or failure of any business change, regardless of the driver, is down to people; how they are led, managed, supported and engaged. Get it right and new organisations will evolve, with a workforce emboldened with a new sense of purpose, clear in their objectives and eager to build on the successes of the past.

Supporting and engaging employees will pay dividends.

The good news is that modest levels of targeted support will have a significant and far-reaching impact on both performance and overall engagement across our workforce.

Managing uncertainty

Helping people manage uncertainty is a worthwhile investment. By giving people an understanding of how to navigate ambiguity and changing times as well as equipping them with the tools to strengthen and deepen their resilience, organisations can mitigate aspects of the corrosive nature of uncertainty. Dispel elements of the ‘fear’ surrounding the uncertainty and the problem is half-way to being resolved.

Ensure managers know how to lead effectively

Of equal importance is helping line-managers to lead through changing times. In all organisations, ensuring that the line manager community are clear about what is expected of them and how they need to communicate change is essential. Clearly this involves being able to articulate what is going on and why it is important. However, it’s more than simply winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of employees – it’s being able to spot early signs of unrest, stress, disenfranchisement or frustration as early as possible and then, importantly, knowing the most appropriate course of action to take on each occasion. Line management often forms the backbone of an organisation and during any change event they will find themselves coming under significant pressure. Helping them to support their teams will reduce the impact of changes and help mitigate any issues that, left to fester, are likely to cause greater harm further along the road.

Provide clarity on careers to maintain motivation

Equally, upskilling individuals through training, and internal career development programmes can address issues associated with a lack of clarity around personal career planning. Many employees will have been working towards specific roles or promotions that were aligned with a previous organisational structure, market or product offering, Take this away and aspects of motivation are removed and could result in an unwanted exodus of talent. Through clear messaging and open discussions around individuals’ personal career aspirations, these departures can be avoided. Let’s not forget, lack of confidence in the leadership of an organisation is the primary reason that employees leave, however a sense that there is little scope for career development and progression is often ranked as the secondary factor.

Support those leaving the business

And finally, providing effective outplacement support, should there be a need to reduce overall numbers of job roles as the organisation adapts to its new structure, helps exemplify the values of the organisation. Whilst the ‘role’ may now be surplus to requirements, good employers will ensure that any individuals impacted as a result of change are supported, either internally or via the provision of external outplacement support, to move their careers forward, despite the unforeseen challenges they may encounter.

Time, effort and resources spent getting individual employees to understand the vision, deal with the uncertainty that change causes and focus with confidence, engagement and enthusiasm on the real tasks that will lead to future success, should be at the top of any leader’s agenda as the transformation unfolds.

If your business is embarking on change and you wish to find out more about how INTOO UK & Ireland can support email