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The People Side of Change

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How do you respond to change? What steps do you take to navigate? How are you ensuring that your people are on the bus? Far too often, the least amount of emphasis is placed on the people side of change management. In the technology environment, these methods are often applied within projects to support adoption of the solution being implemented.

Is this something you also apply during business process reengineering or simple updates to reporting structure? If not, perhaps it’s time to pause and reflect on the conversations being had in the breakroom.

Far too often, the least amount of emphasis is placed on the people side of change management.
Are staff clearly understanding the why and being given the opportunity to participate in the how? – Or are they commiserating about yet another restructure and making up their own truths about who is personally benefiting while others are left behind?

These examples may seem minor, but chances are that the individuals expected to embrace the change are not viewing them as such. The risk of not focusing on the people side of change is especially relevant within state agencies today.

The Human Element

One of the most significant change events in state government has already begun. The elections may be held in November, but the work to support a smooth and successful transition for the incoming Governor is well underway.

Each department follows protocol and creates transition products to highlight the organization, executive management team, programs, and key initiatives. This is an important process, as changes at the Agency and Department level will likely follow. A new Governor naturally introduces revised priorities and key initiatives. New leadership at the Agency and Department levels brings an evolved strategic vision and associated action plans.

So, what does this mean to the 1000s of rank and file staff and management with in state government? At the most fundamental level, it means CHANGE.

Most people have a natural tendency to fear and resist change.
There are multiple change management frameworks, tools, and templates that can be leveraged and strategic partners that can be brought in to support implementation. However, the key success factor is keeping at top of mind the human element of what is being introduced. To varying degrees, most people have a natural tendency to fear and resist change. A strong individual who builds trust and courageously leads in these circumstances is invaluable to any organization.

Reacting to Uncertainty

How do you react when dealing with uncertainty? Is it natural for you to put first other people and the ways that they are impacted? Historically, in times of crisis, I quickly jumped into tactical execution. I was laser focused on the outcome and worked at a pace that wasn’t natural for most. Once through the crisis, I would look up with satisfaction that the risk had been mitigated so timely; but ironically, there was no one there with me to share the accomplishment. It seems like a logical outcome when you don’t take the time to invest in others and bring them along on the journey, doesn’t it?

Over time, I realized that the success of the effort wasn’t just about the task at hand or the pace at which it could be accomplished but about the relationships and trust that were created along the way. As leaders, we cannot do this alone, and your people want to come with you. They simply need an invitation to “Lean In.”

As leaders, we can not do this alone. Look for early adopters to be your change agents.
The next time you are faced with change, consider applying these basic principles. Create new seats at the table. Be inclusive, so people feel that they have a voice and have been given the opportunity to influence. So that they are vested in the outcome, empower them to participate in designing how the change will be implemented. Look for early adopters to be your change agents. They will work hard to ensure that everyone is on the bus. Be open and frequent in your communication. The space where there is no information fills quickly with water cooler chatter and breakroom assumptions. Being approachable and forthcoming goes a long way to building trust.

No Silver Bullet

There is no silver bullet, but during times of uncertainty, keeping these principles in mind will go a long way to calming the water. I truly believe that our people are our greatest assets, so treating them as such is critical to building a successful and healthy organization. Through difficult times, keeping the people side of change top of mind demonstrates the skills and character of a true leader.


Gretchen Williams is an IFG Managing Director responsible for promoting business development to State of California and local governments. Get more of her articles, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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