For businesses of all sizes and in all sectors, organisational transformation has become a constant. A typical organisation has undergone five major firmwide changes in the past three years, meaning that employees are regularly shifting parts of their role, responsibilities and behaviour to align with new business priorities.

Even for the most adaptable individuals, such high rates of change can rock the boat. Leaders can experience workforce disengagement, tension between colleagues, or even suffer reduced employee retention if change is not managed effectively. To ensure that organisational transformations are successful, leaders must focus not only on their own development but ensure they are providing sufficient support to their people.

Overcome resistance to change

Change management initiatives can be complex. Even smaller adjustments to an organisation’s structure, such as a team reshuffle, may appear relatively simple on the surface. Yet, even minor people moves can impact the workforce’s wellbeing and productivity. It is therefore important that leaders at every level are able to identify challenges quickly, so that they can be nipped in the bud before more long-term issues set in.

Reduced employee engagement is one of the most common responses to organisational transformation, often occurring when the workforce doesn’t understand the reason for a transformation or its timeline. When employees are not engaged and informed about the process, resistance to the proposed change can arise, complicating proper implementation. Equally, some employees may begin to feel like their contributions aren’t valued, leading to poor quality of work that could affect the company’s growth. In extreme cases, resistance to change can even provoke conflicts between employees and managers.

All of these roadblocks can disrupt the transformation process, or even completely halt it. Unfortunately, they can be all too common, and often point to a lack of planning and clear communication from leaders. Indeed, only a quarter of today’s employees state that their leaders are engaged, passionate and inspirational. For an organisational transformation to be successful, leaders at all levels must be well-equipped to guide their teams through change. Therefore, organisations must offer ample opportunities for these leaders to cultivate the essential skills required to do so.

Empower managers to lead

Leaders are the ambassadors of change. During times of uncertainty, employees look to their managers for guidance and as examples of how to react and respond. When a manager responds negatively, or allows the stress of a transition to impact their relationships with their direct reports, employees can mirror these reactions in their own work. As such, it is critical that managers can access appropriate support so that they can act as a calm presence for their teams.

Before an organisational transformation takes place, the HR department and Learning & Development (L&D) teams must ensure they proactively assist managers in developing the necessary tools to lead effectively. One of the most important elements here is communication as it requires leaders to grasp the transformation’s dynamics and effectively convey them to their team members. Equally, cross-departmental check-ins could be encouraged, allowing managers to learn from their peers and understand common challenges.

Whilst providing support before and during a transformation is essential, organisations should also prompt regular leadership development for managers at every level. More than 80% of businesses have a performance review or appraisal process, which can be the perfect time for line managers to offer learning and development programmes for individuals to progress their leadership skills. Initiatives such as career coaching can help managers take their leadership to the next level so they can lead their teams through periods of transformation, as well as the more ‘business as usual’ stretches.

In addition to working on core leadership skills, coaches can help coachees to develop strategies specific to change-related initiatives, fostering a psychologically safe environment for their teams to collaborate and cultivate resilience. By encouraging managers to engage with the coaching process, organisations prepare this key group for organisational transformation initiatives, ultimately contributing to the overall success of a change process. 

Prioritise wellbeing and personal development

Employees who feel well-supported by their managers are much more likely to navigate transformation effectively. But, organisations can always go one step further, providing personalised assistance for individuals to handle change. Employees are typically those who feel the consequences of transformation most acutely through direct changes to processes, team structures, outputs and even cultural expectations. Offering wellbeing support and personal development programmes can be essential in ensuring that the workforce remains happy and productive at work throughout a change process.

Initiatives such as flexible working, pay reviews, and wellness programmes are important to consider even during an organisational transformation. Whilst these may not seem like a priority during such a busy period, they can go a long way in ensuring the workforce feels stable and secure. When some elements of their working life are changing, people are looking for consistency and the help that they need to get the job done.

In addition, some individuals may benefit from the support offered by professional development programmes or career coaching. A coach can help people navigate their work lives, discuss the impact of change, and build resilience to move forward in a shifting organisation. Acknowledging the fact that transformation is difficult, and encouraging individuals to become open to new processes, people, and ways of working, can go a long way in guaranteeing an effective organisational transformation process.

Every organisational transformation initiative will impact the workforce, regardless of whether it is a total restructure or a smaller shift in day-to-day processes. Preparing employees for change, at every level, is essential for a successful transformation initiative. Benefits such as access to flexibility and professional development programmes can ease the transition, as employees are inherently more resilient before the initiative has even been implemented. Throughout the transformation progress, organisations should empower and equip their managers with the necessary skills, fostering regular communication and offering support to overcome challenges. By implementing these processes before and during an organisational transformation, leaders can be sure that the business changes for the better of all.

Mat Piaggi
Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub | Website | + posts

Mat Piaggi is a Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub who has a passion for developing workforces across sectors through coaching. Currently part of CoachHub’s innovation lab, he developed a curiosity for psychological research following the completion of his Master of Science in Psychology in 2022. Prior to this, he worked in Customer Success at CoachHub, following a variety of roles in technology-driven organisations.