In this case, a large employer is being faced with the challenge of budget cuts. The results mean that there is less staff to carry out the same work – a situation we have all had to deal with at one time or another. The problem here is that there really is no way that the services can be delivered in the same way, or to the same degree as they were before the cuts. The employer is now faced with the challenge of providing substandard service or altering their service model. As providing substandard service is not an option, the organization, after going through a period of great turmoil, found new ways to automate certain processes, streamline activities, and develop “packaged” methods instead of dealing with each service request on its own. This ultimately led to a more efficient organization, with a greater consistency in service to clients, and the development of replicable and scalable process.

So where is the problem in this case? What bad can come of this?

The resulting changes within the organization have created havoc on employees’ lives and careers. As much as each person has stepped up to the plate to do their best, many are working long hours, are stressed, and feel their personal performance is suffering. There is a general lack of confidence in their leaders, jobs that employees were hired for have changed so significantly that they really are doing work unassociated with their original position, employees’ self-esteem is suffering, and the team is burning out. As a result, team-members and leaders that were instrumental in building the new methods are beginning to depart the organization, take leave of absence, or disengage while on-the-job, and service standards are now beginning to suffer, and the cost savings aren’t proving to be what they thought.

So what went wrong?

As much as the organization was successful in delivering on its new mandate, the price has been high. It is a common case of “shoot first, ask questions later”, where decision-makers were only looking at the bottom line and didn’t take the time (or have the time) to think about the full implications of their decisions. It is also a result of where consultations with middle managers and key staff was non-existent, leaving decision-makers with only some of the information they needed and animosity and confusion among the rank and file. This is a perfect demonstration of where the impacts of change have taken their toll on the team, and where an integrated and well thought-out business and HR strategy was absent going in.

What could have been done differently to avoid this outcome?

No matter what the scenario, there were going to be negative implications to this initiative, change usually does; the question really is about what strategies could have been instituted early on that would lessen the impacts and facilitate a smoother transition.

Having a transition strategy – in most cases, there is time to plan a strategy that will ensure there is at least some clarity as to what the future holds during change; winging it is not an option. Find those employees within the organization who will be instrumental in the transition strategy and entrust them with being part of the solution; they will provide you with insights you otherwise would not have had going in. Turmoil isn’t necessary.

Implement change management principles – change management isn’t a new concept, and there are well documented principles, techniques and methods that can be followed to guide leaders through changes of any size.

Have more open communications – leaving employees, and worse yet, managers, in the dark only creates confusion, animosity, doubt, and erodes trust. Telling employees afterwards that you “didn’t have a choice”, won’t garner you any sympathy. Share what you can, pre-release principles and guiding words of wisdom, host town halls, set up a webpage, etc… whatever your message and your medium, communicate so that employees feel engaged and want to support your vision.

Provide training for staff – as much as most employees are good at multi-tasking and have a certain preponderance for resiliency and adaptability, they cannot be everything to everyone. Make sure that you have thought about providing “retooling” for your employees so that they have the necessary skills and competencies in the new realm of work and expectations. As well, before changes come into effect, or just after they do, make sure to train staff (particularly managers) on dealing with and managing change.

OK, we now know what we could have done differently, what can be done now?

It’s never too late to start with these best-practices. Sure some damage has been done, but remember, people are resilient and want to be part of a successful team with leaders that care about them – so start demonstrating that.

In this particular case the employer reached out to external resources that specialize in change and transformation. A series of integrated activities were put in place to reach out to employees and open a door for two-way discussion on how they were feeling, what they needed from the organization, and in some cases, transition to work that they felt better in. In some cases, the skills and competencies needed before were not what was needed now – some employees were trained, others left, and new members joined. The organizational also benefitted from a revision to their teams organizational structure.

What it really came down to was integrated strategy and meaningful communications.