How do you deal with change management?

You hear a lot about change management, and how to deal with it effectively. But what about the period between the old and the new – the neutral zone?

It can be a difficult time, and it can go on for some while. The hatchet has fallen: people know what the new structure will be, but it hasn’t actually taken effect yet, and won’t do for a few months. So there are huge feelings of anxiety, motivation is low and there is confusion about whether to do things in the old way (which feels much safer) or whether to start working in the new way.

In this situation your job is to manage the psychological processes which will minimise staff members feeling out of control. The day to day tasks still need to be done, but it is vital that senior management also know with how people are coping and getting on with their work, and manage this less tangible aspect.

Recognise that it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and confused in this in-between period – especially for those not responsible for initiating the change. Acknowledge that everyone’s in it together, and work out strategies to manage the turmoil. Create a regular time when people can sit down informally and talk to you about how they’re feeling. This helps everyone feel included and cared for. If this isn’t practical, set up a team of representatives who feed back on behalf of various groups.

Produce a regular piece of internal communication – say an e-newsletter – during this period, to let people know what’s going on and any likely timescales that will affect them. It’s a great way to knock the rumour mill on the head, and helps everyone feel included.

If your supervisors and managers feel out of their depth, offer them special training for team building and problem-solving during the transition. They will feel more in control and be able to help their team members more effectively.

The neutral zone can be a good time to experiment and think creatively. Try out some brainstorming or mind mapping. How about: ‘OK – so we’re not going to be doing this task in the same way when the new structure is in place. In an ideal world, how should we approach it?’ It will get people involved and enable them to contribute to the new regime, rather than feeling it’s something being done to them.

And, finally, try not to impose your own timetable in a period of uncertainty. Keep it realistic and acknowledge that it might be different for other people, and you’ll be able to carry them with you.

If you have any strategies for managing people through transitions, we’d love to hear from you – do comment below.