How do you navigate change?

I’m OK with natural progress and evolution – I like to think I made a successful transition from baby, toddler, pre-teen, teen to adult!

I’m also fine with the changes I want to instigate or am bought in to.

But what about when change is foisted on you, that you have little or no control over? Well, that can be a bit more challenging, and requires a different mindset…

Let’s use redundancy as an example.

I’ve been put at risk of redundancy three times in my 30-year career.

The first time was the worst. I was 21 and it was my first ‘proper’ job. The Essex based company I worked for was moving its HR operations to Bristol. I didn’t want to relocate, and redundancy didn’t sound like something I wanted to hang around for, so I found another job and resigned. I learned from that experience. I’d jumped ship in haste and paid for it by spending a year in a job I didn’t enjoy…

2nd time around and I waited. The company I worked for opened up a voluntary redundancy (VR) programme, at a time when I was ready to move on. I looked at the redundancy figures. I considered my notice period. Could I get another job in HR with my skills, knowledge and experience before the money ran out? I weighed up the risks and decided “Yes”. Happily for me, (and for someone who might otherwise have been made compulsorily redundant), my application was accepted. I found a job I actually wanted this time, negotiating a mutually agreeable leave date. I was even able to use the redundancy money to pay for double glazing!

3rd and last time around and it was 2014. The company I worked for had been bought out by private equity investors. Once again, I considered my options, and VR was the way I wanted to go. I didn’t want to apply for a reduced role with limited scope in a smaller company. This decision set me on the path to becoming a HR Contractor, and the redundancy package paid for a kitchen revamp and a family trip to Disneyland Paris.

I recognise how fortunate I was. I didn’t have to re-evaluate my future against the backdrop of a pandemic. Yes, I had to apply for roles and compete with others to be offered them, but the ratio of jobs to job seekers is completely different now.

So how can my experience of redundancy help businesses and their people navigate their way through change and against the backdrop of a pandemic? It starts by taking control of the things you have control over.

Have you heard of the change curve?

Its original purpose was to illustrate the series of emotions associated with grief, but it has been adapted over time.

We don’t all go through these emotions or in this sequence when navigating change, but it can work like this.

Let’s use the pandemic as an example. Business leaders will, in their own way have worked through the curve in determining the impact of COVID 19 on their companies and in coming to the realisation that redundancies were/are inevitable.

Many wouldn’t have seen a pandemic coming and for those who did, their business continuity plans would never have been tested like this!

Initial shock may well have led to the hope that it would all be a storm in a teacup.

Then there’s the realisation that it’s more serious and affecting business.

Then comes the anger or frustration. “It’s China’s fault…” “If the government had acted sooner…”

Cue anxiety. What can we do to turn things around? How long can we keep running at a loss? What does this mean for our people and operations?

At this stage, the Finance Director will be looking at forecasts and running the numbers, and if they don’t add up, the senior leaders will be looking to HR and putting their heads together to come up with a plan that may involve making some difficult, but necessary decisions.

Some would have moved quickly through the curve, taking early action. Others might have got stuck somewhere along the curve and are still working through their options.

For the senior leaders that take control, identifying and accepting what needs to be done, that’s where the curve begins again, but this time, for the employees, as those plans are communicated.

Often the news of a redundancy programme does come as a shock to employees, and it’s natural to hope that you won’t be impacted or that things will pick up and the threat of job losses will go away.

Then there’s the realisation that it won’t, and what this means for your livelihood.

Then comes the anger or frustration. It’s the business’s fault. They should have done x to prevent this from happening.

Cue anxiety. What am I going to do?

For some, like me, the situation may present itself as an opportunity.

I was lucky. I was able to move into action sooner.

How? I saw the big picture. I accepted that although these difficult decisions affected me personally, they were necessary to safeguard the business’s continued viability.

It also helped that the timing was right. I’d enjoyed my time and was grateful to my employers. They’d supported my desire to study for my Advanced Employment Law qualification and they’d approved my request to work flexibly after the birth of my sons. I was now in a position to increase my hours and work full-time anywhere.

I knew there would be life after redundancy and could visualise what it looked like and the steps I would need to take to get there.

But what about those who may feel a bit more insecure? Maybe they’re worried about what they’ve got to offer future employers. Maybe they’d like a new career but don’t know how to change paths. Of course worry is a natural reaction, but these fears can see employees getting stuck in the change curve and that won’t move them towards new beginnings. So they may need some support exploring the possibilities and getting clear on next steps.

  • What do they enjoy (do they want to stay in the same line of work or try something different?).
  • What are they good at? (not just what they think they’re good at, but what others think too).
  • What do they need (not want – that can come in time!) to earn?

If I were to ask my other half these questions, he’d probably say he wanted to be a famous guitarist or formula 1 driver, but like any goal, this exploration needs to be about what’s SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound).

Once they’ve hit upon something they’re excited about and can start working towards, the thought of redundancy no longer carries that same fear.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s never too late to become a lifelong learner both in and out of work too. The new skills, knowledge and experience gained along the way, just might tip the balance in your favour when it comes to securing a new role.

So now you know…when it comes to redundancy, HR professionals are not immune to being put at risk too (and when we are, we usually have to have the chat amongst ourselves!).

It’s this experience of redundancy from both a personal and professional viewpoint (from supporting business leaders and their employees through change) that helps us to empathise with others when they’re faced with uncertainty.

So what advice would I give to anyone on either side of the ‘at risk’ or redundancy discussion?

 

If you’re a small or medium sized business navigating change, why not let us help you and your employees regain control and reimagine your futures. As the saying goes, where attention goes, energy flows!