Imagine, for a moment, that you have been working for a family firm for seven - mostly happy - years. You know the company's business and routines well and can't see yourself moving to another job at this time in your life.You have become aware that the boss has started talking about "changes" and "rules". You're not completely sure what it's all about and you think it probably won't affect you. Well - you didn't think it would until a couple of weeks ago when someone appeared in the office, all briefcase and shiny shoes. He's been back a couple of times since then and the rumours around the office are that he's doing a time and motion study to make the company more profitable. The worry that started to play on your mind is that the company may want to cut back on staff - and you're just the right age for redundancy.Feeling good? Probably not. I might have taken this to the extreme, but it's pretty typical of how many broking staff across the country feel at the moment. Where directors and compliance consultants are filling in forms and planning changes to the fundamental way that a firm works, most employees have only a vague idea of what is going on and how it will affect them on a daily basis.So the message this week is about communicating change to the people who matter the most - the troops.Think about what changes regulation will bring that are most likely to have a direct effect on staff: Rewriting of job specifications Proving competency Annual appraisals and assessments New procedures manuals New 'supervisors'.
There are lots more, but these are key issues. It generally makes sense to communicate change right at the beginning of a project - before any change actually takes place. But this has not necessarily been possible in the broking community, since no one really knew to what extent things were going to change, or even when. So, better late than never. Now is the time (post application for many of you) that we should be considering the best way to ensure that employees buy into the changes that are happening.It helps to remember that sustainable change can occur only when there is strong and demonstrable leadership from the top. I have found that getting the chairman or principal of a company to distribute an explanation and endorsement of the changes taking place can be very helpful. Also, don't underestimate the power of leading from the front. If staff can see you taking a lead on things like competency assessment, they are more likely to follow.A great deal of study has been carried out on change management. It may sound like the usual psychobabble, but it has been demonstrated time and again that without a clear idea of how to manage change, you are likely to be looking at a long and rocky road, including the loss of staff at some point. Let's be clear that losing staff costs money. So it might be more sensible instead to take the necessary steps to ensure that you keep them.It is true to say that people support what they help to create. You are unlikely to create lasting change if the people most affected by it do not participate fully in it - and could have repercussions for your business. It is also important to accept that people are often afraid of what they don't understand and frequently feel threatened when what appears to be change is forced upon them. You may be finding that there are members of your staff, particularly those with a few grey hairs, are resistant to the changes that are coming with regulation. These are probably the very members of staff whose support you need most over the coming months. Involve them and take advantage of their knowledge and experience. Ignore them at your peril.I'd like you to consider what are regarded as the eight fundamental steps to change, as defined by J Kotter* back in 1995:1. Establishing a sense of urgency Examining market and competitive realities Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises or major opportunities.2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition Assembling a group with enough power to lead the change effort Encouraging the group to work together as a team.3. Creating a vision Creating a vision to help direct the change effort Developing strategies for achieving that vision.4. Communicating the vision Using every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies Teaching new behaviours by the example of the guiding coalition.5. Empowering others to act on the vision Getting rid of obstacles to change Changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision Encouraging risk-taking and non traditional ideas, activities and actions (careful with this one).6. Planning for and creating short-term wins Planning for visible performance improvement Creating those improvements Recognising and rewarding employees involved in the improvements.7. Consolidating improvements and producing still more change Using increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don't fit the vision Hiring, promoting and developing employees who can implement the vision Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes and change agents.8. Institutionalising new approaches Articulating the connections between the new behaviours and corporate success Developing the means to ensure leader-ship development and succession.I want to examine these points in detail over the next couple of weeks. I believe that this is such an important topic that we must begin communicating to staff now. Think about the methods that you could adopt: regular (weekly/fortnightly/monthly) meetings for all employees; a bulletin either on paper or on your intranet; and a formal 'talk to the troops' from your compliance adviser.What have you done so far to communicate change to your staff?*Kotter, J J (1995) A 20% Solution: Using rapid re-design to build tomorrow's organisation today, Wiley, New York Kate Foreman is director of training at RW Group This page is edited by RW Associates, specialists in training, compliance and competence. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org