Restlessness among staff is a permanent feature of the new year, making organisational change a near certainty. Christine Hayhurst tells you how you can best prepare for the inevitable

Asked about their plans for 2005, many employees told the Chartered Management Institute that they intended to change job, find more efficient ways of working and spend less time at work.
At first glance these might appear to be perennial resolutions. The same mantras have been trotted out by members of staff, whatever their sector, whichever the year. But there is a strong underlying message that team leaders must take on board, namely, that staff are not content with the status quo and new year is a time of restlessness. People often want a fresh start and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it can leave you with a headache if you are unprepared.
So, if change is going to happen you need to ask yourself if you are able to manage it. If you are not, there is a danger that any changes will impact on your organisation’s success because your natural reaction will be to try to contain and control problems that arise, without the time to consider your options properly. So what can you do to ensure change is managed, without sacrificing customer care, quality or efficiency?
Remember that change is not an end in itself. Whether it’s the introduction of new staff and the subsequent need to train them, or the implementation of a cashier system, such as Chip and PIN, the key aim of restructuring is to serve the customer better. People often get caught up in the moment so it is important that you alert colleagues to forthcoming changes, outline the plans to deal with them and explain the rationale behind your ideas. If, for example, a store manager gave notice to quit, do not delay telling the staff until a few days before they go because you will only create uncertainty. If people have time to adjust to a change they are more likely to accept it.
Whatever the change, you need to agree an implementation strategy before embarking on the initiative. Are the changes something that will affect the company as a whole, or just one area? What is the timeframe people need to work to? This is something that must be stretching enough to convey urgency, but attainable enough to be motivating. Don’t forget to draw up detailed plans - people get used to the way things are and often need guidance to make transition seamless.
You should also be prepared for conflict. Individuals have different views and reactions so you should try to get people to air their concerns quickly. Tackle negativity by discussing the problems and show a willingness to negotiate. After all, where concerns cannot be resolved by patient and improved explanation and discussion, you must negotiate and persuade. This means avoiding entrenched positions and reaching agreement without either side
being seen to lose face.
Frequent barriers to change are clashes with other initiatives, an emphasis on short-term goals and insufficient finance, therefore priority needs to be given to developing people who can manage the politics that change brings.
You should also be thinking about rewards for creativity and innovation. Sharing the problem-solving and decision-making with those who are to implement and work with the change will ensure you can begin to extract commitment and ownership along with the adaptation that will occur naturally.
Of course, change also involves learning, which is achieved by practice and experience. Think, for example, how you learned to swim. You would either have jumped straight in at the deep end or watched others before dipping a toe in the water. It’s the same at work - some people prefer to try things out and reflect afterwards, others want to know what to expect and know they can pull back if necessary.
So make sure that any transition is gradual - those who are activists will thrive and those who are reflectors will grow in confidence.
Successfully managing change is a critical skill that we all have to master at some point. But this does not make change for its own sake worthwhile. Do it badly and you may only de-motivate. But do it well and you could get noticed as someone who leads people, meets customer needs and delivers results; something that all retailers want, no matter what time of year it is.
n Christine Hayhurst is director of professional affairs at the Chartered Management Institute