managing change

Tipster: Managing change in your team

Mon 12 Sep 2016

Many health organisations have spent years undergoing constant change - and it isn't over yet. Matt Ross offers some advice for team leaders.

1. Explain the vision
Before embracing change, people must understand why the status quo is untenable, see the ultimate goal as desirable for them and their team, and believe the planned change can be delivered. So explain clearly the risks of leaving things as they are, the benefits of the target model and how you will address the obstacles hindering change.

2. Understand people’s reactions
Make allowances if people at first express shock, rejection or anger, and recognise their legitimate concerns. At this stage, it’s important to be honest and empathetic about the real harm people might suffer – but don’t be tempted into making promises that you may not be able to keep.

3. Set aside resources
Productivity will fall as teams change the way they work and develop the new skills required, so you may need additional support to maintain output. And you’ll need to put in plenty of time yourself – not just to deliver the change, but also to scrutinise plans and help address any potential weaknesses.

4. Cater for individuals
Everybody has their own needs in terms of explanations, information, training and support, so make sure you offer your team a range of communications and learning channels. Give people access to senior leaders and change managers, so they can ask their own questions directly.

5. Channel feedback
Your team must be actively engaged in the change project – both to help test and improve the plans, and to give them a measure of ownership and control. Feed your topical and frontline expertise back to change leaders, ensuring that they’ve considered all the potential impacts on internal and external stakeholders. Identify staff who could build their own engagement by getting more closely involved in the project.

6. Express your concerns – privately
Line managers responsible for introducing change often experience competing pressures: you may, for example, worry about losing influence, squaring your loyalties to the team and the organisation, being associated with legacy systems now being implicitly criticised, or maintaining output through a disruptive change. Be open with change leaders about these conflicts, always seeking to find ways to resolve them. If you stay quiet then people are likely to spot both your worries and your silence.

7. Lead by example
You have a far greater influence on your team than any senior leader, communications officer or change manager. So take care not to express scepticism about the wisdom or viability of the changes, and show the way forward yourself – not just by talking up the reforms, but also by adopting any new behaviours required and personally using any new systems.

8. Be liberal with carrots
Praise and reward tend to have a greater impact on behaviour than punishment and criticism – so make sure that people involved in change projects receive recognition, and highlight early achievements or signs of improvement. Amend appraisal and promotion schemes to align them with the new skills and behaviours required.

9. But don’t forget sticks
As well as audible opposition, watch out for disengagement – it’s harder to spot, but just as damaging. And once a project is underway, don’t let one or two individuals suck the momentum out of a change that could work: people sabotaging or undermining a mature scheme should be challenged. If people are slow to get on board with change, be supportive and sympathetic – then get the big guns out.

10. Build networks
Talking regularly with other line managers will help you to spot potential risks and improvements, shape the support offered to your staff, and share ideas on implementation. Make sure change managers are involved, so that your network is seen as a catalyst of change rather than an obstacle to it. Watch out for blurred boundaries and flawed communications between teams under the emerging system: even when each team does their bit, changes can fail because essential connections haven’t been made across the organisation.

A consultant to MiP, Matt Ross is an editor, journalist and change manager.

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