The business landscape is moving faster than ever, bringing change to organisations of every type and significant challenges around employee transition. In the public sector especially, organisational change driven by new legislation and regulation is creating whole new organisations and bringing about the demise of others. Thousands of employees are caught up in the transition.
For leaders and managers, managing employee transition well is difficult. In most cases, they have no control over the planned organisational change and often disagree with what is happening. Few will have experience of closing down an organisation and the unique challenges this presents. And anxiety about their own job security and that of their staff means their decisions may be influenced by emotion.
These challenges mean that there is real benefit in having external support and advice during this period. Our experience of supporting major organisations through transition shows there are several areas where the right approach can make a real difference: central co-ordination; decision-making; programme structure; the relative focus on old and new; and skilled HR support.
As the old organisation falls away, and jobs and the responsibilities attached to them enter a period of uncertainty, established, informal ways of getting decisions made cease to be effective. Establishing a central team, with responsibility for making sure the right people make the right decisions at the right time, ensures effective governance throughout the transition.
Making the right decisions when different stakeholders are agitating for their preferred outcome is difficult. So too is understanding how the complexities of organisational change will play out. Data can bring clarity in both situations. Firm data, brought together for expert analysis, can reveal new ways of understanding change and its associated complexities. It also provides a solid base against which to report to stakeholders such as unions and external partners.
As the transition progresses, the emotions of leaders and managers can be an unhelpful component among the many that need to be managed. Building clear underpinning processes into the transition programme helps take the emotion out of the situation. For example, having a tool that tracks the workforce through the change, and which managers must fill in regularly, forces them to accept that change is happening and that conversations with staff, selection processes, etc, need to take place. When there’s uncertainly all around, clear processes provide welcome stability.
For some leaders organisational change is an exciting prospect and they will want to focus on the new organisation and what it will be like as soon as possible. But senior leaders’ focus needs to be split across closing the old organisations and setting up the new, and the balance needs to shift as change progresses. Leaders need support to get the balance right, especially if interim/designate appointments are made.
The challenges thrown up by employee transition and organisational change are complex and often outside the experience of in-house HR staff. Having a strong core team of HR professionals who are used to working with ambiguity and in challenging environments is key. Often a smaller team of staff who are comfortable with this type of change is better than an army of well-meaning but unskilled people.
PA’s insight into managing employee transition effectively is drawn from our extensive experience in this field. Our recent work includes working with NHS London, the London Deanery and five PCT Clusters to move almost 6,000 staff into over 80 new and existing organisations.