Avoiding conflict around change

men in crossed arms

Many organisations have learnt that much time and effort must go into preparing for change. It is important to have certainty around the process or procedure that is being changed and clarity about how this will be presented to staff and then implemented.

All the effort that goes into setting up trust between management and staff during a change management process is wasted if the executive and every other level of management do not deliver a consistent message. There must be consistency and alignment through all levels of management about what the change message is, what is being promised and exactly what the implementation process is.

Most executives looking to introduce change, do so from a big picture approach. They see change as being required to achieve an outcome at the global level. Often this perspective is foreign to those who are working on the front line where the change must happen. How does change at the big picture level get chunked down to the grass roots level? How does an organisation ensure that the new change in process at the grass roots level will achieve the change being sought at the global level?

One successful method is to have a small group of managers act as the ‘change message champions. This group is responsible for:

  1. Ensuring complete alignment within their group (around the change message and change implementation process);
  2. Delivery of the same change message across the whole organisation; and
  3. Presenting to the executive the real picture emerging at every level of the organisation as the new process or procedure is being implemented.

If a question or problem arises that the group does not already have an agreed approach or response to, the group must meet and agree on the answer or solution before offering any information to the wider organisation. In this way, a consistent message is being delivered every time.

Allowing the change message to filter from the executive level down through each level of management presents opportunities for the message to be distorted. Each level of management will have heard different aspects of the message and added to this their own perspective, agenda, priorities and time lines. When a question is asked and that manager doesn’t know the exact answer, an approximate answer might be given which really isn’t accurate or aligned with the real message. Staff affected by change will talk and share their stories. They will very quickly discover where and when mixed messages have been delivered. Any crack in the armour is identified as a weak spot and becomes an opportunity for attack by disgruntled or confused staff.

Having easily identifiable change message champions who are available to give the right advice instead of leaving queries with managers (who don’t know the answers but think they do or feel pressured to be able to provide an answer on the spot) will reduce the potential for conflict within the change management process.

A lot of hard work goes into creating a culture that will support the change management initiatives. Getting the communication channels correct is crucial in supporting staff to see that change hasn’t been created just for the sake of change. The real change message needs to resonate loudly, clearly and consistently throughout the organisation (and sometimes beyond the organisation’s walls to external stakeholders too).

These change message champions not only need to understand the impact of the change on the big picture and the minutiae of change at the detailed level, they also need to understand the motivators that are going to help bring staff along on the journey. This is a big role. It is a crucial role. It is imperative that the change process is made easy for staff.

The evidence for change and the change message must be authentic, transparent, consistent and compelling. Motherhood statements won’t cut it. Both words and actions have to match up exactly at every level of the organisation.

Obviously, the actions that managers take to ensure that the change is delivered internally at the level they are responsible for must be aligned with and support these change message champions. The situation cannot be allowed to occur where the organisation preaches one message but it is not delivered consistently at every level.

Who will be the organisation’s change message champions? It will be important to carefully select members of this team and their leader/trainer/coach. Getting the members of this team and the change message right will be crucial in getting the change process implemented efficiently with the least amount of conflict.

In determining the change management approach, plan for the maximum opportunities where staff can participate and contribute in constructive communication interactions with the change message champions and automatically the possibility of negative and destructive road blocks to change will proportionally be reduced.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.