What to do when employees resist disruption or change?

Disruptions will not cease, but organisations can do their bit to ensure smooth transition for their employees

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‘Change is the only constant’ is the oft-used sentence to explain why it is inevitable. Evolution is nothing but gradual and recurring changes leading to growth and development. Disruption is also change, but more like something that interrupts the normal course of an activity or process. But even such interruptions can lead to positive or better outcomes. However, be it change or disruption, even when they lead to upgradation, they are not always welcomed.

Change can be unsettling

Change unnerves people as it pushes them beyond their comfort zone. Organisational change or disruption sees similar resistance. While it is not unheard of, such a shift does demand alterations, in terms of focus, thought-processes and manner of work. A lot to take in, surely. After all, it’s better to go with a known devil than an unknown one. So, what should organisations do to make the transition even and avoid any major jerks from the employee’s perspective?

It is important to first understand the necessity of change, be it structural, functional or market specific. A shift in status quo disconcerts people as it poses a threat to their sense of security. Even the most cooperative employees may feel reluctant to embrace the shift. There will be some resistance and ignoring the same can prove fatal. At times, involving the employees in the process goes a long way in smoothening the rough edges. They need to feel wanted and respected and not forced to accept a transformation.

“Considering that people have to participate to make the change happen, it is the duty of the leadership to rally people around. They can’t shy away from this responsibility.”

Jayant Kumar, head- HR, ports & logistics, Adani Group

Change needs to be explained

HR experts believe change cannot be stopped, but the process of putting it across to the employees can be definitely worked upon. They unanimously vote for making the intention behind the disruption known to the employees as clearly as possible.

For Lakshmanan MT, chief human resources officer, L&T Technology Services, communication is the key in such situations. “People do talk about it, but there’s nothing called over-communication. What is most important is to demystify and answer one big question for the employee, ‘What’s in it for me?’ At the end of the day, there have to be positives for the employee. The next question is, ‘What is in it for the company?’ That needs to be clearly explained as well.” These factors have always helped Lakshmanan deal with change at various levels at every organisation he has been part of. “If there is nothing for the employee and only for the company, the change will fail. It doesn’t always have to be monetary alone,” asserts Lakshmanan.

He also adds here that during a merger, situations do get complex. Reminiscing about a time when EDS acquired Mphasis, he reveals, “As an HR head then, I remember the entire change management was driven around a single word. They called it AND integration and not an OR integration. So any policy change that was both, was considered, and the better of the two was selected. The Mphasis team had argued that the ‘AND’ integration was getting expensive. “They said, ‘We have to deliver growth, development, revenue, leave policies, lower work hours, better cabins, et al’. Being a multinational company, the policies at EDS were formulated at a large scale. The leadership, however, was adamant that the better of the two would be considered for all parameters. It worked wonders and employees were very glad,” recounts Lakshmanan. He also mentioned how a lot of town halls were conducted to explain the purpose of integration, principles and others.

“When change happens, a lot of anxiety creeps in. People don’t have access to the leaders because they are the ones busy driving the change. How one evangelises or populates the positive side of change is important.”

Paramjit Singh Nayyar, CHRO, Bharti AXA General Insurance

So what exactly are employees’ concerns that make them resent change? It could vary from understanding the reasons of going beyond the comfort zone to their mindset.

Jayant Kumar, head- HR, ports & logistics, Adani Group, reveals, “The deviant behaviour comes from different sources. They resist if they cannot see the rationale behind the change. Sometimes they don’t correctly understand or take a narrow or short-sighted view. Considering that people have to participate to make the change happen, it is the duty of the leadership to rally people around. They can’t shy away from this responsibility.”

Kumar prefers to answer the WHY of the change before the WHAT, unlike many others who tackle the latter (WHAT) better than the former (WHY). That’s because, normally, people understand the necessity but what one can do to make the situation better is what they are interested to know. “So an organisation can help by enablement, skill building, and so on. It basically helps to garner support and once people are committed to it, their effort also increases,” Kumar explains.

In Kumar’s experience, what unsettles the employees in a large organisation is the restructuring. “Everyone is settled in their roles with a fair understanding of what is expected from them. Suddenly all that changes, and sometimes uncomfortable areas get included. I have seen that the faster a company settles these issues the better. If the uncertainty prolongs, business suffers, and market perception starts changing,” reasons Kumar.

Change requires transparency

One other thing that organisations should bear in mind while they make career-altering decisions on behalf of the employees is the access to leaders. It is important to keep that channel open for anyone to voice their resentment and for the organisation to sort it out.

Paramjit Singh Nayyar, CHRO, Bharti AXA General Insurance, firmly believes transparency and leadership access are extremely important. “When change happens, a lot of anxiety creeps in. People don’t have access to the leaders because they are the ones busy driving the change. It often happens that the employees who get impacted the most, do not get to connect with the leaders. It is also important to make the employees understand what’s in it for them, and how it will help them. How one evangelises or populates the positive side of change is important,” says Nayyar. He also believes that creating some LIVE examples can be effective too.

“If there is nothing for the employee and only for the company, the change will fail. It doesn’t always have to be monetary alone.”

Lakshmanan MT, chief human resources officer, L&T Technology Services

Nayyar asserts here that sometimes people come with an old mindset. “In such situations, they become a liability for the company. Sitting together, empathising, opening communication channels, clearly communicating the rationale of change, and explaining how they can be successful due to this alteration is important for such people”.

Speaking about his time at Airtel, when the shift from voice to data was made, Nayyar reveals that the organisation educated the employees, introduced cultural change initiatives around data, set up career journeys, facilitated the understanding of data roles, rolled out R & R initiatives and lots more, to make it employees understand the future the telecom companies were headed towards.

Disruption or change will never cease to exist. All depends on how an organisation rises up to the occasion to help its employees make the transition in a smooth way by projecting the intent clearly. Communication will always be crucial here.

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