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Change Management: When Upgrading a Workforce

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Creating a culture of change is essential in today’s organizations though the tradition has been for employers to offer stability and predictability. And those traditions create barriers to development. So, for those who manage change, the biggest challenge is how to maintain the relationship of trust between employers and employees while announcing workforce change and creating an organization where change is the norm rather than the exception.

It is true that the current concerns and employee perceptions over organizational and workforce changes are conceptual hangovers from the days when industrialists tried to promote a ‘company is a family’ concept. The reality is organizations need to be slim trim and efficient.

The reality is technological change forces unforeseen changes in workplace infrastructure. The reality is companies producing gramophone records stopped productions and started producing cassettes, and companies producing cassettes went out of business and were left behind by those that created compact discs. And the reality is that today, you won’t find a single investor willing to back industrial production of CDs, because DVDs, and other tools have made CD production obsolete. The reality is that yesterday employees serving a company for decades used to receive handsome retirement packages and farewell parties, and that today employees scheduled for retirement are targeted and sacked by companies like IBM. And the reality is also that with layoffs announced stocks of a company go up in the market.

But the prevalent expectations of employers and employees in a workplace are also part of the reality, regardless of their status recognized on balance sheets. So, to lead change and upgrade the workforce, satisfying employee expectations are as big a part of the procedure as satisfying shareholder expectations, as even in this age the capacity of a company relies upon the capacity of its employees.

Unless you are trying to kid yourself into believing that an organization can become ‘lean and mean’ just by getting rid of the ‘wrong’ employees and recruiting the ‘right’ employees, you’d understand that

• Sustainable and productive change in the workforce cannot happen overnight
• A workforce first needs to develop the capacity to sustain change

The readiness of an organization and its workforce to change is fundamental to the success of any attempts to upgrade the capacity of the workforce. This is well-known and usually managers focus on making an organization ready for change or making the workforce mentally prepared for change. However, quite often, managers fail to differentiate between ‘readiness for change’ and ‘ability to change.’

An organization must be capable to sustain changes in the workforce frequently and as routine affairs in order to survive among the competition. Globalization of trade and global access of labor pools have only heightened the fact, with the neat result that if the organization is unable to sustain change, then jobs are shifted to other parts of the world. If the organization does not move jobs by itself, then some other company will move the organization out of the market.

In situations of direct change, the organization can work on minimal capacity. Direct change involves stating we are changing something so that some other target can be achieved. Once employees fully understand the rationale and expected outcomes of the change, upgrading the workforce becomes easy. However, direct change methods work only in simplistic situations where the organization is not going to face a series of uncertain changes.

In guided changes, organizations have to identify an overall direction of the company’s forward movement and provide employees the chance to contribute both towards achieving the goals as also to modify them. Guided changes work better in more complex situations with the organization trying out low-cost experimentation with new ideas or ‘no-budget knowledge management.’

The modern corporate structure is no more amicable to personal leanings of administrators for the representatives of investors on board and shareholders have the final say. Even if you know that a particular employee is beneficial for the company it is not possible to retain that employee unless his/her performance can be quantified in accounts sheets and the decision to retain the employee is justified by numbers.


1. Anthony F. Buono, and Kenneth W. Kerber, "Creating a Sustainable Approach to Change: Building Organizational Change Capacity," SAM Advanced Management Journal 75, no. 2 (2010)
2. Ming-Chu Yu, "Employees' Perception of Organizational Change: The Mediating Effects of Stress Management Strategies," Public Personnel Management 38.1 (2009)