Dealing with Change” (Extract from the forthcoming “ Memoirs of a simple Utility Worker”)

Change – oh I have seen plenty of that! Dealing with change can be a daunting prospect, especially when it’s of a personal nature and it’s out of our control. There is nothing worse than being on the end of an enforced change without any hope of influencing it. We can often see ourselves as “victims”, without hope. I have seen the impact of change. I have been impacted by the decisions of others – I have seen at first hand the damage that can be caused. A broken relationship, a loss of trust, the feeling that nobody understands your point of view. You turn in all directions but get no answers from those around you. Friends seem unable to grasp the magnitude of your turmoil – you fall ever spinning in to a deep sea of despair.

We spend a lot of time at work. It is often reputed that we see more of our colleagues than we do our family. A loss of trust in any relationship can be difficult to deal with or indeed repair – regardless with its work related or not.

Over recent years I have seen a significant degree of changes in the workplace, and yes, I have been impacted by those changes. What continues to frustrate me is the seemingly inability of Businesses to understand and plan for the impact of change on its workforce. And my criticisms go right to the top of the food chain – to the Board Room. Dealing with change or “managing change” still remains one of the biggest challenges for any organisation I’m sure. However, fully understanding the impact of change on a workforce and planning for it still remains an issue that many organisations want to either ignore  or bury it completely – even when it continually bites them on the ass.

On re-joining the Company in  1989 I was returning to a Business vastly different to the one I had left ten years earlier. However, I was a different person.  As I near retirement I have had recent conversations around that decision and the impact on my workplace pension. “Of course you have broken service haven’t you, look at the pension you would have had if you hadn’t left”. Yes, that is factually correct – I would have had continued service of forty-two years. But, there is no doubt that I wouldn’t have got to the position I currently hold if I had not left. And it’s here that I have a quandary. My prospective on life and on work changed dramatically during the period I was away. I fully recognise and endorse the fact that Business’s need to change, to adapt to an ever changing market place. The Water Industry is a highly regulated Utility, many would argue too regulated, but with constant pressure being put on it by the Regulator – not changing or adapting is not an option. So, too many of the friends that I have who are “lifers”, who continually fight against change I am sorry, our opinions differ. The issue for me is the way change is introduced and on what basis.

Our failure to communicate changes properly through an informed dialogue with those affected will result in a disengaged workforce – and will impact the business outputs. What is fascinating about this is the fact that many issues could be avoided if we “communicated properly”. And yet in this fantastic world of technology, with every type of communication tool available we have at our disposal the one we fail to use appropriately – “our voices”.

I like working with people. Of course I wouldn’t say for one minute that managing people is easy – it’s not. All of us our different, we can react differently to a variety of situations – that what’s puts us aside from machines. Whilst one person needs a supporting hand another needs firm direction. When introducing change in the workplace there need to be careful assessment of the impact, considering the needs of all.

The recent BREXIT vote has shown us quite clearly what happens if those at the top fail to fully recognise the issues of the “masses”. Too many re-organisations are designed by external consultants before being endorsed by a Board Room full of Directors who lack any connection to the hundreds, sometimes thousands of employees who work for them. I am not saying for one minute that as employee’s we should be in a position to “veto” the decisions taken in the Board Room. What I am saying is that it is ludicrous to think that Directors of Business’s don’t engage their staff more before they embark on some of the radical changes that are being put in front of them by so called specialists who have no connection to the Business itself.

Having being engaged in the management of staff for some seventeen years I have of course had my critics, from below and from above, you shouldn’t go into the management of people with any ideals of winning a popularity contest that’s for sure!  However I do think that understanding the issues facing your workforce, both as a team, or indeed on occasions as individuals, is an essential requirement of the role you have. How you can you motivate them, improve performance or address their concerns if you have no concept or understanding of the issues they face? Implementing changes that leave many of your employees completely disconnected from the organisation they work for will impact performance. I have heard many times over recent years that “we shouldn’t be concerned at the increased turnover of staff – it’s healthy for the Business”. There is no doubt that the introduction of new blood into any organisation is good. New people with new ideas, who are prepared to challenge the status quo is healthy. But some organisations, which rely on a specific skill set that is often only learned during the employment, need a core group of key staff to provide the service the customers expect, and have been promised. When a significant number of those key staff starts leaving the service you are providing is put at risk.

Whist not subscribing to the notion that those nearing retirement should be allowed to “ease off”, as a thank you for their long service and commitment to the organisations, I found it a bit ironic that the biggest challenges I faced as a manager was in that very same period. Working and supporting colleagues that were being impacted by change over the last few years has been hard. I shared their frustrations, their anger and of course their relief if they survived. Some didn’t survive, and exited the Business.

Yes we have changed – but to what?

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers”: Tony Robbins

One thought on “Dealing with Change” (Extract from the forthcoming “ Memoirs of a simple Utility Worker”)

  1. Beautifully put Andy, although unfortunately I’m sure businesses will continue to change and continue to fail to communicate!


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