Workforce Management: Maintaining Focus and Productivity When Facing Unexpected Change

While some types of change can be anticipated and planned for such as organizational restructuring, staff and facilities expansion, or headcount reduction, there are other types of change that we often do not see coming and can easily throw your organization off balance unless you are prepared to respond in a quick and thoughtful manner. Although the reality is that we live in a time and place of seemingly endless change with regard to competitive market forces, technology, and social trends, the one factor that allows an organization to keep its eye on the proverbial ball with regard to its goals and strategies is that fragile sense of continuity and stability that is cultivated by leaders at each level of the organization. One of the key roles of an effective leader is to buffer their employees, to the extent possible, from disruptive external forces so that staff can focus on the business at hand; however, what happens when it is one of those key leaders that is the source of change when they unexpectedly decide to leave the organization?

Some potential negative impacts to organizational performance from this type of event include fear and anxiety among your workforce that:

  • Foretells other significant changes will be following shortly on its heels.
  • May act as a negative barometer of the organization’s overall health and stability.
  • Signifies there will be a significant change to the overall strategic direction of the organization.

To mitigate these and similar types of reactions and avoid derailing overall organizational momentum and productivity senior leadership MUST:

  • Promptly and visibly communicate to the entire workforce an accurate account, to the extent that is prudent, of what transpired to avoid the spread of false rumors and exaggerated stories. Nothing ramps up anxiety more quickly than keeping people in the dark – even negative news is preferable to no news.
  • Explain the process that will be undertaken to fill the vacant position and what will happen in the interim to ensure continuity of operations. This should include explicitly identifying who will be assuming responsibility for the role during the transition process.
  • Reassure the workforce about the long term strategic direction of the organization – be honest if there will be a change of direction and share as much information as possible, otherwise encourage people to stay the course.
  • Be receptive to people’s questions and concerns – it is critical that you be accessible and responsive to maintain trust.

While it seldom is possible to prevent some level of anxiety from percolating in the workplace, your preparedness and willingness to proactively communicate with your workforce in a timely, honest, and direct fashion can go a long ways toward ensuring uninterrupted productivity and positive employee morale.

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