How to manage change

Few social services departments have escaped a major restructuring
in the past few years, writes Nathalie
. Change is a constant in many workplaces and
managers have to deal with it all the time. Teams must adapt and
this can be incredibly difficult to manage when staff are extremely
busy focusing on front-line work. It is up to managers to lead
teams through periods of change and ensure staff are prepared for
and involved in the process.

Explain change
It has to be made clear to the team why change is
happening in the first place. Bill Brittain, principal manager for
disability services at Kingston Council in London has recently gone
through the process of integrating district nursing into the health
and disability team. “The job of the senior and front-line managers
is to be clear about the direction and end results,” he says.
“Managers will decide on the process but it is the frontline staff
who will put the meat on the bones and decide how change is
delivered locally.”

Pitching it to the team
It is important to first get your head around the new
initiative, so you can then deliver it positively, says Annabelle
Hoggan, team manager for looked-after children and permanency at
Cumbria Council. “As the leader you need to take the initiative and
embrace changes so you can get the best out of them. Where I work,
if staff see the value in it and how it will work for the children
they will support it,” she says.

You can never have too much communication during times of change.
“You can’t just send one e-mail and assume the message has got
across,” says Brittain. It’s a good idea to use different methods
such as meetings with managers, larger briefings open to all staff
or dedicated one day team meetings to look at service development.
Individuals will have particular concerns so they need to talk
these through. “Supervision and appraisals are a good opportunity
for staff to express their opinions and sometimes we bring in
senior managers to meetings so we can discuss what is going on,”
says Hoggan.

Make it happen
“The process is like a triangle,” explains Brittain. “You
start from the base with broad themes and discussion and then you
gradually start to introduce headlines and explain what is required
of people.” As the process approaches its conclusion, broad ideas
will become more specific and action plans and individual targets
will be drawn up. How long the process lasts can vary enormously.
If change is based on the introduction of new performance
indicators, there will be a set deadline but even if this is not
the case some sort of deadline is always helpful. “Timescales are
really important as you want to avoid drift and people thinking the
change will never happen,” adds Brittain.

Listen to staff
It is very important to give staff ownership to avoid the
possibility of them resenting what is going on, says Hoggan. But
staff will see through insincere attempts to listen to their
concerns. Managers must steer a difficult course between showing
genuine concern and ensuring the changes are carried out. She adds:
“Don’t just tell people to get on with it. Make sure you take them
with you.” Brittain says it’s not just about taking staff’s
concerns on board. “Senior managers won’t always know the best way
and there is lots of talent on the front line where people know
what does and doesn’t work.” Managers should find out from staff
how they think it went. “We set up review dates so we can look back
on the project after three months,” says Hoggan. “Otherwise how
will you know it’s working?”

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