As change management practitioners, we see that significant organisational change often involves some form of staff restructuring. Sometimes it can be downsizing, a trend that has unfortunately peaked in South Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic leading to significant job insecurity. However, other times a team restructure results from something less gloomy – with teams growing as a business expands or units combining in a merger between companies.

  • Preparation is vital: Before any change, nothing is more important than adequately expressing the nature of the change to your teams and what it will mean for them in the future. It sounds simple, but this is often where many organisations fail. Building up a team of trustworthy change agents who can assist in spreading this information – and the tangible reasoning behind a change – is key. The leadership of a company may need a high-level knowledge of the strategy. However, it’s important to spread that information and provide your agents with the right change management skillsets. Once they’ve had this training, you can always have a change network that can continue managing future business changes.
  • Leverage your change networks: Once your network is in place, what is important is ensuring you continue to use them to help people prepare for the new normal. In the event of a downscaling, it’s essential to hold onto the people with this institutional knowledge, transfer their skillsets, and train new network members. They’ll be the ones helping people to fully understand their new roles, help identify issues that emerge and help develop a culture of embracing the change. There’s a reason why change management is seen as one of the most highly sought after skillsets in local business.
  • Focus on the people side of the change: The technical side of the change is also important.  If new systems are being implemented (such as upgraded digital tools to help take the load off of a comparatively smaller team), people need the training to use them, of course. However, more importantly, leaders have to focus on the people side of the change. Without empathy in the face of change, you will lose the respect of the people working for you. One of the best counterexamples of this was at an engineering firm in Canada, where after restructuring was announced, they immediately began coaching the people who were leaving—providing counselling to help them cope with their emotions, giving them career guidance and training to help them secure more work, helping them develop their personal brand and even improving their CVs. These small gestures ultimately led to a productivity spike in the last few months before the retrenchments came into effect – and the company’s reputation and culture was preserved.
  • Identify the pressure points as they arise: Essentially, this is a combination of all the above. Change is ever-present, implying that your change strategies and networks should always be developing. If your teams are still struggling to deal with a change many months after a change has been implemented, it’s a signal to evolve your strategy. By having your change networks focus on people and their concerns, you can address those unpredictable sticking points and help find the solutions that will let your new team feel comfortable, and hopefully, productive. Allow the people you work with to take ownership of their changing work lives, and they’ll feel more secure, and most of all, like a united team.