Minimising employee uncertainty: A job for the CEO?

by Cameron Edmond24 Sep 2013

All successful organisations will experience change. Change is seen by many as the catalyst to keep organisations alive, with one expert even claiming high turnover as a positive due partially to its stimulation to change.

However, change commonly manifests as mergers or downsizings, which can result in lost jobs. New research from Monash University, University of Queensland and the Palladium Group revealed that CEOs must play an active part in extinguishing the anxiety that may be rattling employees during periods of change.

The study, which interviewed 40 CEOs and over 600 executives internationally, found that many leaders successfully inspired their leaders through highlighting the importance of a shared organisational vision and approach. This encouraged employees to work together, which reduced conflict and anxiety.

By generating an interest and understanding in the vision that the changing organisations were striving for, employees were able to better understand where they stand.

“Rather than say that CEOs need to roll up their sleeves and dive into the trenches, it is about creating a narrative to help people understand what exactly is going on and what it means to the employees and to the sector,” Giles Hirst, associate professor from Monash University, told HC.

“That’s important because if people are too concerned about their current needs to consider the future possibilities, these promises about a strategy being the best in the business doesn’t necessarily resonate with their thoughts and such perceived change is seen as a threat of security, not as an opportunity for the future,” he explained.

Encouraging a shared vision and employee co-operation is only the first step, and ultimately means nothing if CEOs themselves do not practice what they preach.

“It is also about the CEO being consistent with their actions and their words. You often hear about great visions and inspiring speeches but if there is inconsistency, it is the highway to cynicism,” Hirst said.

While the CEO can act as the avatar of shared vision and solidarity, full benefits can only be reaped if managers carry this mindset and attitude into their dealings with staff as well, and HR must help facilitate this trickle-down into the more micro-levels of the organisation. This mapping of strategies into operational procedures is all-important.

In essence, effective change management comes about by ensuring employees they aren’t forgotten: helping them to understand the purpose of the change, where the organisation is going and their place in it, will prevent them from going into survival-mode, which can result in conflict with other employees and thereby further anxiety.

HR’s duty here is to ensure managers become bastions of both change and stability – promoting solidarity and enthusiasm for change.

“[Managers] serve as a linchpin to manage and implement change,” Hirst concluded.




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