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Workplace change process outline

Steps to follow when making a change in the workplace.

At the start of any workplace change process, always review your employment agreement/s and workplace policies to make sure that you understand all of your responsibilities. You must comply with these.

If any of the following situations apply to your proposal you should review the section on restructuring when there is a sale or transfer of work, alongside the following workplace change process outline:

  • selling, transferring or contracting out of work
  • your transaction involves vulnerable workers, or
  • you are a SME with less than 20 staff.

Steps in the change process

Note: Always consider the timing of your change process. If possible, avoid doing consultation and change just before or over the Christmas/New Year break or other extended holidays.

Your business case should clearly explain:

  • The objectives of the proposed change
  • How the objectives will close the identified ‘gaps’
  • Why the objectives can only be achieved by a structural change
  • The potential business risks/issues and how these will be managed
  • The potential opportunities and how this would happen
  • Costs of change eg possible recruitment, assessment, outplacement, training, and redundancy costs.

Prepare a workplace change proposal. This will be used to communicate with your team. Your proposal should take the information in your business case and develop it into a proposal for consultation with employees.

This process involves a lot of planning and preparation. This is where you expand the concept and add detail as to how it might work. The proposal:

  • is about outputs, jobs and functions; it is not about managing people.
  • needs to talk about jobs, not people.
  • should state the reason for the proposed workplace change, and the expected benefit.

At this time you can keep the details high level.

Before you draft your proposal make sure you understand what work groups or teams and different jobs actually do. Use this information when you’re considering whether jobs might be removed or whether they are substantially changed. (It’s a good idea to update job descriptions regularly. A good time to do this is when you set objectives for the year.)

Your change proposal needs to clearly explain:

  • your genuine business need to make the workplace change. If you include specific facts, eg, if you say that you need to take 20% cost out of the business, then you must have the evidence to support this, although this doesn’t have to be in the proposal
  • types of jobs proposed - do high level job descriptions
  • what you propose the new structure to be – an organisation chart is helpful here, with key functions explained - show how the change will impact the current structure – compare the proposed structure with the current structure. If you can, create a table showing before and after to show potential impact
  • jobs that are being disestablished or substantially changed in this proposed restructure
  • an outline of the process you will go through to make your decisions (the consultation process) including timeframes (ie how long staff will have to consider the proposal and give feedback, how long you will review the feedback, when you will make your decision and what will happen then)
  • outline proposed assessment and selection procedures, and training and support available to staff.

Email or write to your employees inviting them to a meeting to hear about the proposal. Write to the union at the same time, if you haven’t already given them a ‘heads-up’ about the proposal. Your meeting does not have to be in person, it could be online. You could begin the process by sending out the change proposal to all affected staff by email and asking for feedback online, although face-to-face is often better as it shows staff an open environment to raise issues and share concerns with their peers.

You should:

  • invite everyone whose jobs might be affected or potentially affected. You might want to include your whole team as there’s usually overflowing impact and they can be more understanding and supportive
  • make sure that you invite those staff that are on parental leave, secondment, sick leave and holidays – if they can’t attend, make arrangements for them to receive the information and to talk with you if they want to
  • if there are a smaller number of the employees whose jobs will not be in the new structure then speak with these employees privately, before speaking with other affected staff. Give these staff the option of not attending the meeting with the rest of the staff
  • the meeting can be with everyone at once, (including the union if there is one) – although try not to hold the meeting on Friday afternoon as staff may leave the office without having a chance to talk about the proposal, ask questions or seek support before the weekend.

In the meeting

You should:

  • talk through your proposal and give your expectations on timeframes
  • talk employees through the proposal document (including your consultation plan) and provide the proposal as a handout – the aim is to make sure everyone has consistent information about the reasons for change and the key impacts
  • do not just deliver a final decision and give no opportunity for discussion
  • outline the consultation process - this is the process that you will use to gather the feedback on the proposal (and any proposed implementation plan) and make your final decision - including timeframes and provide the process in a handout
  • be clear on the jobs that are affected under your proposal (eg what would be confirmed, suitable alternative jobs, removed)
  • talk through the proposed assessment and selection procedures, and support available
  • outline the feedback process – explain how staff can provide feedback to you. Give options that work for the staff eg in writing, email, in person through a private meeting, they may use a support person or representative (they’ll need to tell you that they want a meeting, so you can schedule it in)
  • be really encouraging to staff to contribute their views to the consultation process. Often they can come up with creative solutions that you had not thought of. A good consultation process could bring these out
  • give time for questions – if you don’t have the answer on hand, say when you will get back to them by. You should be prepared for questions along the lines of “what does this mean for me” – this is what people affected by a change are often most concerned about. An information vacuum creates concern and misinformation, as people will fill the gaps themselves if you don’t provide enough information.
  • make clear what the next steps are and by when, how and to who, feedback must be given
  • if there are individuals potentially significantly affected, ensure that you meet with them one-on-one to talk through what the impact might be
  • at the end of the meeting, remind people of the support that is available (eg EAP, career counselling and outplacement support) and that your door is open to discuss concerns or take feedback.

You might want to put times in diaries now for other phases in the process. That way, you should have enough time set aside, you are signalling to your team that you mean what you say about the timeframes, and that you will genuinely be available for discussion etc. Always put aside more time than you think you will need.

  • Give staff plenty of time to consider the proposal, seek advice, talk among themselves and to give feedback – the length of time that you give staff is usually dependent on the size and complexity of change proposed; you will normally want to give at least a week, including a weekend. Take care it’s not too long – don’t leave staff hanging.
  • Let staff submit feedback in written form or in meetings with you – individually or as a group. It’s important that you consider what they have to say about your proposal.
  • If you’re getting some consistent questions, consider preparing a set of FAQ’s and answers; the sooner questions are answered the better – it will mean that their feedback will be focussed on the things that really matter.
  • Let staff know that you are happy for them to use work time to discuss the proposal and to prepare any feedback.
  • Be prepared to meet with the union if they wish to do so.
  • It is important to genuinely consider all the feedback that you receive. Take time to think about whether there is value in making changes based on the feedback.
  • It’s helpful to read through all of the feedback and then prepare a feedback summary document. Once you have done this, consider the weight of the feedback and also whether or not there is value in taking it on board. Quite often there are some excellent ideas worth incorporating or some issues/concerns that need to be investigated further before progressing with your proposal.
  • If you decide not to use, or do not agree with, the feedback, you should write down why you do not intend to use it. This information needs to go back to staff as part of the decision document. A table format is useful.
  • Considering feedback takes time, make sure that you have a few days built into the timeframe to consider the feedback and prepare a decision document. The decision document may be in the form of a modified proposal or the original proposal, which includes a response to the feedback along with further detail, such as full job descriptions (see step 6) and comparability information for each role.
  • Individual feedback specific to the individual’s situation should be responded to directly to the individual.
  • Take care in the process to respect individuals’ privacy.

If you do not make any changes to the original proposal go to step 6.

You may make minor changes during the process in accordance with feedback received eg during discussions with individuals, without formal ‘re-consultation, as long as those individuals are the only people impacted by the minor changes.

If you do make changes (other than minor changes) to the proposal, including changes to the consultation or the selection process then you should give some additional time for feedback on those changes. This is particularly important if your new proposed structure affects different roles.

Remember, if you have made significant changes to the original proposal, affecting additional or different jobs, then you’ll need to give some more time for feedback on those changes from the people affected.

Once you’ve finalised your structure you need to advise people of your decision:

  • for all employees who are affected in some way or who the original proposal affected in some way, provide a copy of the decision, the new structure and what this means for the jobs in the old structure
  • if possible, have a meeting with your staff to advise them. However, this is not always possible and it can be appropriate to advise via technology and have follow-up meetings, or one-on-one conversations, where needed
  • if there is a union for the staff impacted by the workplace change make sure you invite the union to the decision meeting.

Your ‘decision document’ should contain at the ‘big picture’ level:

  • confirmation of the new structure – with a structure chart
  • clear information about the jobs that are affected and what this means (eg which jobs will be confirmed and which are available for redeployment - ie they are suitable alternative jobs), include a table comparing jobs
  • details of all of the job descriptions and if known and appropriate, the job size and pay for each role
  • details of the implementation process – this is likely to include:
    • process for assessment and selection
    • details of the process for staff who are not reconfirmed or reassigned – how do they get involved in the wider selection process, what if there are no jobs for them, what is the support available (EAP, counselling, outplacement)?
    • answers to frequently asked questions.

At an individual level:

  • a personalised letter, for all those that are impacted by the change, that sets out the impact of the change and the steps from here
  • an offer to meet and discuss, and questions or concerns that they may have

Where an individual is in a job that is removed you should meet with them to advise of the impact of the change:

  • this meeting should be prior to the announcement to all staff (eg if you are making an announcement in the afternoon, then you can meet with those individuals in the morning)
  • give these staff the option to not attend the group announcement or to go home etc.
  • ensure that there is support made available to them – it can be a good idea to have your counselling provider available to meet with staff, after they have met with you, if they wish to talk
  • give a personalised letter that explains the impact of the decision and ‘what this means for them’; enclose a copy of the decision document
  • consider the implications of the impact on individual staff – do they need to travel to and from being advised? Give options such as receiving the information via technology or from a different manager
  • a good employer will ensure that there is support to assist staff to apply for roles that may be available (such as CV writing and career counselling); where there are no roles available then support to seek roles outside of your organisation.

Where there is a small group or team who are in the same jobs and these are removed, then you can follow the same process as for an individual. If you have a large number of jobs being removed at once, make sure that there is enough support available.

Things to consider as you implement the change:

  • staff often appear to cope with change decisions at first, but this may change as the impact of the change sinks in; recognise individuals deal with change differently – adjust your approach accordingly
  • even if their roles have not been impacted, many staff can struggle with the change – they can take on the issues of others/survivor guilt
  • dealing with change is not a simple straight forward process, many people get stuck and find it hard to move forward
  • encourage team members to support each other – ensure staff feel empowered to take time out if needed
  • make sure you are accessible to staff – keep communicating (eg hold small group discussions if required, walk the floors and be seen)
  • understand that productivity is likely to slow – take care not to push too hard as this may have a negative effect, however think of ways to promote team support
  • acknowledge feelings and encourage staff to seek support; while letting them know that the change will happen, explain what to expect and suggest actions that they can take to adjust and be involved in the implementation process.
  • use managerial courage, change can be hard to implement especially when you are dealing with other people’s feelings and potentially significant impacts on their lives. If you have made your decision properly, (based on good process and reasons) you need to see it through.

Support for staff

A workplace change process can be a stressful time for both staff and managers. It is a good idea to put a range of support in to assist everyone through the process. Putting support in place is an aspect of dealing with your employees in good faith and support a fair process. This may include:

  • touching base regularly with staff, be sure to be seen and be available throughout the process
  • time off to prepare feedback, prepare for interviews, or deal with other issues that may arise through the change
  • EAP or other counselling support. If you have an EAP provider or decide to have a provider for this change, take time to brief them on what is happening. This will make sure that they can offer the appropriate level of support to staff and managers throughout the process
  • training in CV writing or interview skill development if staff need to apply for new jobs
  • career advice or counselling and or outplacement support to assist staff who are made redundant as a result of the change. Career advice may also be helpful; to some staff to assist them to seek different roles in the new structure.

Common mistakes

To reduce the risk of a personal grievance, don’t:

  • treat the proposal as a done deal before you’ve heard and considered feedback
  • leave too little time between stages — your employees need time to consider things and be certain that your consultation process is real
  • be unclear about what the proposed structure is – creating confusion and leaving employees to ‘fill in the gaps’
  • give out confidential information, or refuse to give out information that you should disclose.

Tips for employees

  • A workplace change process should give you a chance to be involved and give your feedback.
  • Make sure you know what is happening. Go to all of the meetings and read all the information.
  • If you are not sure of anything, you can talk with others, including:
    • work mates
    • your representative
    • a support person
    • HR person
    • your manager.
  • Let your employer know what you think about the change and its impact on you.
  • The change proposal should say how feedback can be given. You can normally do this in person or in writing. You might chose to do this can be directly to your manager, by yourself or with a group of workmates, or through your representative.
  • If you can think of different or better ways to do things let your employer know.
  • Try your best to be positive and constructive when letting your employer know your thoughts and ideas.
  • If you do not think that the change goes far enough, it is okay to say so.
  • You should take part in any selection processes for same or similar jobs. You should be able to apply for any new jobs that you think you have the skills for.
  • You should talk with your family, this is important as they can support you through the process.
  • A change process can sometimes be a worrying time, this is normal. Make sure that you look after yourself, eg eat well and get plenty of sleep. If you have concerns, make sure to talk with someone. If EAP or other support is offered then use this.
  • Where possible a change process is about keeping staff employed. It is not about getting a better job.
  • If the change process results in an employment problem – you should use the resolving issues process.

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