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C-Suite: Managing Change

Managed turnover is part of any professionally-led organization so a plan to replace people who self-select or are terminated as part of your change is likely in place already

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When you announce a change, your organization splits into three groups representing 20, 60 and 20 percent of your employees. The first 20% are your change champions. The middle 60% are your fence sitters. They've been through too many "flavor of the month" initiatives to jump on board right away, but they'll come around once they see evidence that this initiative is a) permanent and b) successful early on. The bottom 20% are your change deniers, who will resist any change until they either defeat it, grudgingly accept it, or leave the organization. More often than not, they choose to "be successful elsewhere." What's troubling is the number of leaders who are totally shocked by turnover even when an employee effectively said, "if you do this, I'll quit."

Managed turnover is part of any professionally-led organization so a plan to replace people who self-select or are terminated as part of your change is likely in place already. The biggest angst for a leader during change is when a core member of their team, typically a senior manager or executive, who has publicly supported the new initiative slides into their leader's office and says, "this (initiative) isn't for me."

The core team member may offer to work on the new initiative while they transition out, but that's a lose-lose offer for their leader. The first loss is their core team member's heart, and possibly their head, won't be engaged in the new initiative so their leader's implementation timeline will likely go sideways. The second loss is team members at the peer level and below picking up on that core team member's attitude and further causing the new initiative to go sideways or completely off track.

While the angst and heartbreak for a leader will still exist when this happens to them, they can minimize the impact on their new initiative implementation with three activities.

First, before announcing your new initiative to your core team, break them into the "champion," "fence sitter" and "denier" categories described above. Your categorizations likely won't be a neat 20 / 60 / 20 split, but the categorizations are more important than the percentages. Be brutally honest with your rankings. Just because you put one of your team in a specific category doesn't mean they are a bad person it just means they may be a bad fit after you implement your new initiative. To successfully execute this step you must keep in mind that the people who helped you grow your business to "here" may not be the ones to get your business to "there." Because of the emotional nature of this step, a best practice is to consult a trusted adviser internally or externally who is familiar with each member of your core team and comfortable sharing an honest opinion about each of them with you.

Second, when your core team member tells you "this isn't for me," end their involvement in the new initiative immediately and transition them out of your organization as gently and quickly as possible. You'll need to have packages and transition plans sketched out for each member of your core team so you minimize the emotional fallout of their exit with your remaining employees. As part of this step you must communicate quickly and clearly with your remaining employees about their former colleague's transition out to keep your new initiative implementation plan on track.

Third, identify the skills that each core team member brings to your new initiative implementation then identify who in your organization one level down possesses at least 80% of those skills. Those latter individuals become your "bench strength" - should a core team member leave you aren't left to fill a role for need instead of fit. When you do approach an employee on your bench about filling a core team member role, resist the urge to give them the role. Instead be completely clear with them about expectations for the role and ask if they would be comfortable filling that role for at least the "short term," which is until your new initiative is completely implemented. By approaching your employee with a question instead of a gift, they are more likely to own the role and perform instead of looking at your "gift" as a burden on their current role.

Turnover, especially of a core team member, is painful for leaders. By planning in advance you'll minimize the emotional and productivity impacts on you and your remaining team.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Hamish Knox

Hamish Knox is author of CHANGE THE SANDLER WAY: Understanding The Human Dynamics That Cause New Initiatives To Succeed. He currently heads a Sandler Training Center in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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