CQU Project Management education

Celebrating success in a change project

Elissa Farrow
June 10, 2013

We have covered managers needing to support themselves to best support their staff; their need to inform, orientate and engage staff, and their need to reinforce change with effective communication. The other thing managers need to do is acknowledge the past and ensure success is celebrated in a change project.

One of the clients I had recently was letting go a number of staff as part of an organisational restructure. They had a ceremony of sorts to acknowledge the years of collective wisdom, share the stories of staff and handed each staff member a symbol to keep in the form of a certificate of appreciation and a company branded gift.

This was a planned process to acknowledge the past and ensure past success was celebrated. The reaction was mostly positive. Some staff who were leaving self-selected to not attend, many of the staff who were staying did attend to hear the stories and see the acknowledgement and join with their colleagues to say goodbye.

In all change management strategies I create I ensure that there is a process to acknowledge the past so that there is movement to the future. We do this in life with the birth of a new baby, or the death of an old friend: we acknowledge the past, join together in the joy or the grieving and it assists us to move forward. Same in organisations.

This acknowledgement eliminates a lot of rumour and hearsay and publicly announces the difference. A celebration of the merger and a change for staff to say goodbye to the old brand and hello to the new, the new corporate uniform, the new lanyard, the new team, the new work process and system.

Managing reactions to change

Change always has a way of bringing up behavioural and emotional responses: the good, bad and indifferent. Managers therefore need to sensitively manage the emotional responses of their staff.

Many of my clients are going through organisational change. Many did not have a psychological understanding and, in some cases, emotional sensitivity covered off in their formal education. In many of their organisational cultures, mental health or emotion is discussed in their more rigid and formalised workplaces. Safety is a focus but not often psychological safety and wellbeing. Gladly this is shifting.

I, on the other hand, did originally start my career working in a service that specialised in counselling and support for families where violence was prevalent, prior to moving into areas more business and organisational focused. Therefore I feel there is one important statement to make before we begin:

MY FIRST MAJOR POINT: It is dangerous for managers to play the role of ‘counsellor’ to a staff member in psychological distress. An empathic response and appropriate referral is key here. Regardless if you have a background in counselling or psychology.

In all cases where there may be psychological or mental health concerns the best support a manager can give is to provide the staff member with details of the organisational counselling services (if available and often outsourced e.g. Employee Assistance Services) or to encourage the staff member to see their doctor for a suitable referral to a qualified specialist.

Elissa Farrow
Elissa Farrow is the founder of About Your Transition, a business specialising in strategy development and implementation, the Director of Ethics of the International Institute of Project Coaching and the Global Secretary for the Change Management Institute. With extensive experience in strategic organisational change, portfolio, program and project management in the public, commercial and not-for-profit sectors, she has assisted organisations in increasing their delivery maturity by implementing enterprise-wide methodology and building the capability of the people who use them.
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