Managing Workplace Change: Strategies & Tips

Every organisation goes through periods of change. But facing change in the workplace can be stressful, confusing and even scary for your employees. In this article, we’ll share our top strategies and tips to help you manage workplace change with confidence and come out of the other side as a stronger and more profitable operation.

Kick things off by downloading our change management guidelines right now.

What Is Workplace Change? 

Workplace change is any significant interruption to previously established routines, structures, job roles or working styles within an organisation. Some level of change is natural over a company’s lifecycle. However, the ability to effectively manage change can be the defining factor that makes a successful organisation.

What Factors Drive Workplace Change? 

Many different factors can make change necessary in the workplace. These include both internal factors, which you may have some level of control over, and external factors, which are totally out of your control. 

Internal factors that could lead to change include: 

  • Changes in leadership 

  • Mergers and acquisitions

  • The decision to target new types of customers

And external factors include: 

  • Societal events (e.g. COVID-19)

  • New competitors

  • Demand for a new type of product or service

  • Changing technology 

  • Shifting market conditions

Change Management Models 

The idea of a change management model is to distil the core principles of change management into a concise and understandable framework. There are many different models, which each provide a different way of thinking about workplace change.  Three of the most common models that you might come across are: 

  1. Lewin’s change management model

  2. McKinsey’s 7-S Framework

  3. Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model 

Lewin’s Change Management Model 

Lewin’s change management model was developed by a German-American psychologist called Kurt Lewin in the 1950s. According to this model, the change process is best divided into three phases: 

  1. Unfreeze: This phase involves analysing your current situation and preparing for change. It’s also the time when you should communicate your plans to your employees. By the end of this stage, you should have a clear idea of the changes that are necessary and how you’ll implement them. 

  2. Change: This is the actual implementation of the changes you decided on during step one. During this phase, it’s important to continue communicating with your employees, colleagues and stakeholders so everyone is on the same page. 

  3. Refreeze: The final stage is about developing strategies to ensure that the change sticks. It involves reviewing your processes and measuring progress against your goals. 

McKinsey’s 7-S Framework 

The McKinsey 7-S Framework was developed by McKinsey and Company in the 1970s as a tool to analyse organisational design. It’s often used as a model to manage change. According to the 7-S framework, an organisation’s design depends on seven key focuses, which are further divided into three “soft” Ss, and three “hard” Ss. 

The soft Ss are things related to human capital. They are:

  • Skills

  • Style

  • Staff

And the hard Ss are more solid things that are easier to identify and manage. They are: 

  • Strategy

  • Structure

  • Systems 

At the core of all of these is the seventh S: shared values. According to the model, these seven elements are at the centre of every organisation and must be afforded equal importance. 

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model 

Lastly, Kotter’s change management theory was developed by a Harvard professor called John Kotter. It focuses primarily on the people involved in the process of implementing change. According to this theory, the process can be divided into eight steps: 

  1. Create a sense of urgency

  2. Build a guiding coalition 

  3. Form a strategic vision 

  4. Enlist a volunteer army 

  5. Enable action by removing barriers

  6. Generate short-term wins 

  7. Sustain acceleration 

  8. Institute change 

5 Tips for Managing Change in the Workplace

As the models above show, there are many different ways of thinking about change management. However, there are certain guiding principles that can help you to manage change, whichever approach you choose. Here are five of our top tips for successfully managing workplace change. 

1. Understand What Change Will Achieve

If you want to manage workplace change effectively, the first step is to ensure you fully understand why the change is necessary. This allows you to better communicate the reasons for the change to your employees, which can help to get everyone on board. 

For example, in the early stages of the pandemic, organisations around the world had to go through previously unimaginable levels of workplace change. However, because everyone was very aware of the reasons behind the change, many companies found that the process went remarkably smoothly. 

2. Create a Solid Plan of Action 

Once you fully understand the motivation behind a change, you need to make a plan of action. This should determine exactly what needs to happen to make the change successful. It should describe the actions you will take, the people involved, and any financial investment needed. 

A comprehensive action plan could be key to getting your organisation’s leadership on board with your vision, so it’s important to get it right. The plan should be realistic and achievable, but ambitious.  

3. Communicate Effectively and Regularly 

Effective communication might be the most important factor in successful change management. First, you need to communicate your plans to your employees so that they understand the change process and what they will need to do. You should also seek out their feedback throughout the process, and be prepared to adjust your plan based on what they tell you. 

It’s also important to communicate regularly and clearly with your company’s leadership, and other stakeholders like the trustees or board of directors. This keeps them informed about the process and helps them understand what progress you’ve made.

4. Be Prepared For Roadblocks Along the Way

No matter how carefully you plan for changes, you’re almost certain to run into problems along the way. You’ll need to be prepared to adjust your approach and find innovative solutions to the issues that arise. 

It’s important to encourage your employees to be open about any roadblocks they encounter so that you can help them to overcome them. For example, ingrained behaviour at the management level might get in the way if you’re trying to implement changes to working styles. In this case, the solution might be to provide additional training to help managers move forwards. 

5. Try To Keep Things Positive 

The driving factors behind workplace change are often negative. After all, if you need to fix something, it probably means that it wasn’t working well before. However, implementing a change can also be a positive experience, and it’s important to help your employees to see it that way.

With careful management, you can ensure that the tone of your change project remains positive throughout. This helps you to encourage your employees and gives the project a better chance of success. 

Why Is Managing Workplace Change Important? 

Periods of change can be stressful and frustrating. But when it’s properly managed, change can be a deeply positive thing for your organisation. Creating a detailed plan for managing change allows you to properly communicate the reasons behind it to your employees. This means they’re more likely to be fully on board with the planned changes. In the end, getting through a period of change together can result in a stronger and more cohesive team. 

Managing workplace change effectively also helps businesses to get through difficult times. Even if you have to change your product line, your business model or your customer base, the important thing is that your business survives. 

Change Management FAQs

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about managing workplace change. 

What Is Effective Change Management? 

Effective change management is when an organisation properly plans and implements a strategy for dealing with change. The change might be necessary because of internal or external circumstances. When change is managed effectively, organisations can emerge stronger and more profitable once the change has been implemented.  

How Do You Manage Change in the Workplace? 

There are many different ways to manage change in the workplace, and the correct approach to take will differ from one organisation to another. The most important steps are to develop a solid plan, implement it carefully, and communicate regularly with employees and stakeholders throughout the process. 

HR: Leading the Change Management Conversation 

Who should be responsible for rolling out a change management plan? Well, it depends. If the change is highly technical, then it makes sense for IT to take the lead. And if we’re talking about strategic, high-level changes to your core business model, your senior leadership team might be the best people to steer the ship. 

But in general, HR are in a perfect position to communicate effectively and regularly with employees on every level, getting them on board with planned changes and supporting them throughout the process. The trouble is, HR teams are often overloaded with repetitive, administrative tasks — leaving little time for strategic initiatives. 

Personio’s operating system gives HR teams back their time by simplifying and automating a whole list of core HR functions. This lets you get back to focusing on the things that matter most — like guiding your organisation through a period of change. 

Want to learn more? Request a free demo to get started. 

Introduce Your Next Great HR System

Analytics-and-Reporting Employee-Headcount-Overview