Archives for November 2015

Managing Emotional Reactions to Organizational Change

Can you recall a time when you experienced a major change in your organization?  Perhaps like others around you, you experienced a roller coaster of emotions:  excitement that at long last something was going to happen to change the status quo, confusion about the specifics of the intended changes, and anxiety about what it could mean for you, your team, and even your family.  Change can be disruptive, both professionally and personally.  Change can affect the nature of our work, where we work, when we work, how we make decisions, and how we communicate. Change can impact our identity, our sense of belonging, and our relationships with coworkers, clients, and customers.

Emotional reactions to change are a normal reaction to the real and perceived disruption that accompanies organizational change.  Successful change leaders know that understanding and addressing the mixed emotions that employees may experience can help employees feel motivated and committed to achieving their goals, implementing change, and realizing a new vision for the organization.

Emotions are psychological and biological responses that affect our minds, our bodies, and our motivation. Emotions colour our perception of events and influence how we make sense of the world around us.  Emotions are useful.  They help us evaluate the significance of events and assess the consequences.  If people assess the consequences as beneficial, positive emotions result.  If the consequences are perceived as potentially harmful, negative emotions may result.  Barbara Fredrickson’s research on emotions helps us understand and appreciate the role of emotions.  Negative emotions such as fear and anger narrow our focus, and limit how well we are able to be creative, interact with others, deal with complexity, and take risks.  Positive emotions broaden our focus and enable us to interact with others, experiment with new things, and be creative.

Yet some organizations believe that expressing emotions should be actively discouraged.  It can be tempting to interpret the mixed feelings that people express as resistance to change, and to view resistance as something negative, to be ‘dealt with.’ Employees may be expected to hide their emotions.  Employees who feel the need to hide their emotions for fear of being labeled a ‘resistor’ may end up pretending to comply with intended changes.

Managers may be advised to keep supervisor-employee relationships task-oriented and unemotional, but is this the best strategy?  Huy (2002) conducted a study of a large information technology company that was suddenly threatened by major global competition.  Responding to this challenge necessitated a major restructuring over a three year period that involved a shift to a market-customization focus from a universal service focus, turnover of the executive team, changes in the organization structure,  a 25% reduction in the workforce, elimination of seniority entitlements, and greater financial accountability.  The chief operating officer, sensing potential negativity just as a change project was reaching a crucial mid-point, sent out a memo to all managers stating that any expression of cynicism about the change would not be tolerated.  These managers were reminded that as they held leadership positions that they must display enthusiasm at all times. However, the middle managers who were most successful in managing change ignored this advice, and paid attention to the psychological well-being of company employees and their families.  These managers encouraged their employees to express their emotions. Some managers held one-on-one meetings with employees, while others met with employees in small groups.  Allowing employees to share stories—and feelings— helped them to develop a greater sense of control over the changes, improved morale, reduced absenteeism, and built trust between managers and employees.

Learning to address emotional reactions during change is crucial to individual, team, and organizational performance.  The managers who did attend to the emotional reactions of employees during the change implementation achieved greater employee commitment to change, higher levels of customer service, fewer cost overruns for overtime, and shorter time to implementation compared to managers who did not attend to employees’ emotions or who did so after the changes took place.

Whether your role is leading a team, or supporting others to manage change successfully, here are five tips to help you and your team as you embark on your change initiatives.

1.  Listen and legitimize.  Accept that capable and committed people will experience confusion, anxiety, and doubt, as well as enthusiasm for the change. Don’t try to talk people out of their emotions. Make it safe for people to express their emotions.  Provide safe opportunities for people to vent, one-on-one, and in small groups.  Allow people to say goodbye to the past and cherish their memories.  Provide support that enables people to move forward and embrace the future.  Encourage thoughtful reflection on, and discussion of, the emotional dimension of work.  When emotions are acknowledged, and people are treated with respect, people are more likely to engage with change.

2.  Create hope for the future.  Focus on the change vision and create a sense of hope for the future. In doing so, you can help people shift out of anxiety, and turn their concerns into curiosity.  Conversations about possibilities can inspire positive emotions of excitement, confidence, team spirit, and a sense of accomplishment.  Being open to new possibilities creates enthusiasm for what the future holds. Change requires a tremendous amount of energy. Sustaining change over the long term means tapping into the power of positive emotions.

3.  Encourage employee voice.  It’s a trap to dampen any negative feedback from people by insisting that everyone ‘be positive.’  Engaging employees in frank conversations about real and potential operational risks and problems can be very useful.  Frontline employees may have deep insight into the technical and logistical challenges that lie ahead.  Anticipating and identifying real and potential barriers before change is implemented enables people to engage in problem solving that could avert costly mistakes.  Encouraging employees to share their ideas and their feelings builds commitment to interim goals and the longer range vision.

4. Maintain a sense of humour.  Even during difficult times, maintaining a sense of humour can help both you and others to put things into perspective and avoid getting caught up in anger or anxiety.

5.  Understand diverse perspectives.  Empathizing with others helps us to understand different points of view and demonstrate caring.  While we don’t necessarily need to agree with these different perspectives, we do need to understand and acknowledge them. Ask yourself, If this was happening to me, what would I want to happen? How would I like to be treated?  Different groups in the organization may be reacting to change very differently.  Different emotional needs must be recognized and addressed according to the situation.

People who are fully engaged at work contribute with their heads, hearts, and hands.  Managers, team leaders, and human resources professionals who understand that emotional reactions to change can be anticipated and acknowledged are in a better position to harness the energy of emotions in productive ways.  Organizations with healthy cultures that support emotional expression are more likely to build employee commitment to change and implement change successfully.


About the Author

Kate SikerbolKate Sikerbol, M.Ed, MA, is a facilitator with the Queens IRC Change Management program and an organizational consultant and coach who has worked in business, industry, government, and higher education.  As a scholar-practitioner she is interested bringing theory to practice, especially in the areas of organizational change and communication. Kate holds an Honours BA (Psychology) from the University of Western Ontario, a Master of Education from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Arts in Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University.  She is currently completing her doctorate in Human and Organizational Systems at Fielding Graduate University.



Selected References

Duck, Jeanie D.  (1993).  Managing change:  The art of balancing.  Harvard Business Review, November-December.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001).  The role of positive emotions in positive psychology:  The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.  American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Huy, Q. N. (2002).  Emotional balancing of organizational continuity and radical change:  The contribution of middle managers.  Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(03), 31-69.

Sala, F. (2003).  Laughing all the way to the bank.  Harvard Business Review, September.

Smollan, R. K. (2009).  Organizational culture, organizational change, and emotions:  A qualitative study.  Journal of Change Management, 9(4), 435-457.



The Importance of Communication for Effective Change Management: A Case Study About the ‘Made in Cogeco’ Change Model

 A Case Study About the ‘Made in Cogeco’ Change Model Working in the telecommunications industry, people assume that we are ahead of the curve in terms of change initiatives and communication practises.  But similar to other companies, we are challenged to come up with our own change management processes within our organization.  Our industry is changing rapidly, and that means we need to change too. In this article, I will share how Cogeco developed a new change model quite quickly to respond rapidly and succinctly to the transformational trends in our industry.

Cogeco Cable Canada is a telecommunications company that operates in Ontario and Quebec, and provides residential and commercial customers with phone, internet and cable services. In fiscal year 2015, we created a “Made in Cogeco” solution in response to the need to enhance service, stay competitive and cut costs.  There were 3 key factors that helped us toward this goal.  The first decision was to hire a Director, Communications and Change Management based in Montreal. Shortly thereafter, we hired a Senior Advisor, Change Management located in our Burlington office. Lastly, the Organizational Development staff was provided with enhanced skill development to become specialized change agents.  The result was that the  HR department, utilizing  this specialized change team was able to create the “Made in Cogeco” change management model.

Developing the Made in Cogeco Model

Applying some of the important principles found in many of the courses at Queen’s IRC such as Change Management and Designing Change, we selected a large project that would impact our business in Quebec and Ontario, and that could be phased in to pilot our approach.  Our vision was to transform how we do business in our call centre and with our field technicians, by increasing first call resolution for our customers and enhance their overall customer experience.  Customer service has always been a point of differentiation for our customers at Cogeco.  We were therefore looking for a new way to enhance that service.

The overall goal of the project was to reduce labour costs while enhancing the service for our customers by focusing on reducing services calls and the handling times of customer calls.  It was important for us to promote top line growth and reduce overall operational expenses.  As we introduced more advanced products out in the marketplace, such as TiVo, we had to get innovative and more efficient in how we delivered our customer service experience.  With the call centre transformation, we wanted to implement a first call resolution program and accelerate our self-care functionality. Out in the field, the goal was to reduce delays to install and improve procedural effectiveness by implementing new standards.  In both the field and call centre, skill enhancement was therefore key.

Our experts in HR change management worked with the operations team to make a plan to transform ideas and vision into action. This included:

  • Diagnosing the need as well as the team for change
  • Guiding the executive sponsor with selecting the right stakeholders
  • Developing the methods for communicating the change effectively
  • Implementing the change to ensure sustainability
  • Assessing and managing any resistance

Tasked with this exciting opportunity to implement the “Made in Cogeco” change model, the team quickly sat down to understand the why, what and how of change.  Working with the VP, Customer Experience and the respective operational Directors, the change team built the roadmap for transformation.  Most importantly, they quickly developed action plans to get input from the stakeholders to get a more informed approach to the change.  In particular, the goal of the combined team between HR and Operations was to erase any resistance, and mobilize commitment to achieve the desired results.

The Communications Framework

A major focus of the change management process was the communications framework.  Of particular importance was the method of communication across a big department that straddled two provinces.   It is well known, but not often followed, that you cannot over-communicate when you are asking an organization to change.  Many organizations come to this realization after the fact, often when it is too late.  We adopted a more proactive approach on this part of the change plan.  We were also clear that the message had to resonate.

For effective communication, there were some key recommendations that we incorporated into this organizational transformation.  The first was to link it to the corporate initiative.  All of the communication was geared toward one of the key initiatives that are the pillars in our five year plan.  The VP, Customer Experience went on a road show to clearly communicate the vision, mission and objectives of the project.  Both he and his Directors, along with the Human Resources Business Partner, worked hard to help people understand how the changes would affect them personally.  They conversed in small groups so there could be open discussion and a chance to ask clarifying questions.

Another overriding consideration was that the communication strategy needed to work through any roadblocks – we knew we needed to communicate the why, why now, and the risk to our organization if the change was not implemented.  We introduced a way to have information cascading both up and down between the front line workers and management within 24 hours.  The first step was to identify a primary sender who represented the corporation direction.  In this particular case, the primary sender was two levels up.  Next, the change team ensured that there was buy-in of the managers by involving them as the secondary sender of information. In turn, the managers would involve the direct supervisors.  The most important piece was to identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me).  By doing this, the goal was to solidify the buy-in and mitigate any resistance.  The tone and attitude was set at this level because they were the conduit for this directional cascading of information up and down the pipeline.  It was identified that managers also needed a vehicle to ask questions.  By identifying this need, it broke down barriers and mitigated the noise and rumour mills.  The overall effect was that it created transparency.

A change management inbox was also created to receive the ongoing communications and it was accessible to everyone.  Training sessions were held with supervisors and staff by our Senior Advisor, Change Management.  There were two modules that were introduced: Communicating to Drive Change and Coaching to Drive Change.  Reinforcement was done through lunch ‘n learns that were scheduled regularly after these sessions.  During these sessions, staff was introduced to this new model for communicating news and information.  A template was also created to ensure consistency in the message. In particular, the template addressed the link to the corporate initiative, the back story, the why and the why now, how to get assistance, the timeframe, as well as the benefits to staff, the organization, and most importantly, the customer.

The communication opened up the timeframes and identified how and when the leaders would be available to answer questions.  This prevented the front line workers from shopping around for answers and it ensured that everyone was on target with the outcomes of the project.  In effect, the cascading sequence for the release was to approve the communication, send it to the supervisors/managers, allow for a call in option to answer questions, release the information to the front line and track and respond to feedback with 24 hours. The result created energy for the change.


Capitalizing on the success of the change management model for the project, we feel confident that we now have a prototype for change.  With this initial trial, we demonstrated that we were able to create the acceptance for transformation.  We will therefore use our “Made in Cogeco” methodology to apply to other projects and initiatives.  Based on this success, we have also developed a change management module to deliver to all of the organizational leaders within Cogeco Cable.

By applying many of the same principles that are shared with HR practitioners through the Queen’s IRC training, we were able to transform ideas into actions that will continue to propel this organization forward.


About the Author

Erin O'FlynnAt Cogeco Cable, Erin O’Flynn is responsible for providing the full suite of professional and strategic human resources expertise to the Operations Departments in Ontario. She develops, facilitates and implements HR business plans that align with overall business strategies to deliver superior HR services that enable operating departments to meet their business goals and provide a return on investment to the shareholders. Erin is responsible for developing or coordinating all HR programs such as talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, policy development, HR project management, change management, organizational development, establishment of strategic and operational initiatives, training and coaching for managers and executives, management succession and leadership as well as new initiatives for employee development.  Erin has extensive human resources experience in both public and private sector industries.  Previously she was the HR representative responsible for Public Health and Paramedic Services in Niagara Region.  She sat as a member of the strategic management team and was involved with four bargaining units and one non-union group. Erin has a Master’s in International Relations from the University of Toronto, a Certificate in Labour Relations from Brock University and an Advanced Human Resources Certificate from Queen’s University IRC.

About Cogeco

Cogeco Cable Canada regroups the Canadian cable operations of Cogeco Cable Inc. Cogeco Cable Canada is the second largest cable operator in Ontario and Québec in terms of the number of basic cable service customers served. Its two-way broadband cable networks provide residential and small business customers with analogue and digital television, high speed internet and telephony services. Cogeco Cable Inc. is a telecommunications corporation and is the 11th largest hybrid fibre coaxial cable operator in North America, operating in Canada under the Cogeco Cable Canada brand name in Québec and Ontario, and in the United States through its subsidiary Atlantic Broadband in Western Pennsylvania, South Florida, Maryland/Delaware and South Carolina. Through its combined subsidiaries, Cogeco Data Services and Peer 1 Hosting, Cogeco Cable Inc. provides to its business customers a suite of information technology services (data transport, colocation, cloud and managed services, and dedicated hosting), with 20 data centres as well as more than 50 points-of-presence in North America and Europe. Cogeco Cable Inc.’s subordinate voting shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: CCA).

Communicating During an Organizational Change

Communicating During an Organizational ChangeMost experts would agree that communication is a vital ingredient in successful change initiatives, and there is much research to support this assertion. My own research revealed a very high correlation between change success and communications efforts (Pearson correlation r = 0.567, significant at the 0.01 level). Furthermore, it has also been shown that ineffective internal communication is a major contributor to the failure of change initiatives.(1) For example, Sally Woodward and Chris Hendry surveyed 198 employees in U.K. financial services institutions undergoing change and asked them to specify the barriers to change.(2) Two of the six barriers identified were: lack of adequate communications (not being kept informed, receiving conflicting messages, wanting to understand but not being given explanations) and lack of consultation. In my view, expert communication is indispensable when persuading people to support change. Some researchers even claim that the essence of change is communication; that is, that communication produces change rather than merely serving as one tool in its implementation.(3)

Communication efforts during a large change project attempt to persuade stakeholders to adopt a new view of the future, but before they can arrive at this new conviction, three things must be absolutely clear to them: the “why,” “what” and “how” of the change.

The importance of answering the “why” questions is backed by much empirical research. For example, Paul Nutt, in his study of major change at a hospital setting, found that employees were more likely to accept the change if they felt it was justified.(4)

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

Successfully Changing Workplace Culture with the Boundary Theory

A Team’s Journey to Manage Culture More Effectively in a Unionized EnvironmentOrganizational culture isn’t like a sports car. It cannot instantly change directions and make a hairpin turn. Instead, it’s more like a tanker ship that takes time and planning to put on the right course. If you think about how your organization or team arrived at the culture it currently has, it’s unlikely you can point to a single event, or even a few moments, that explain your current culture. Instead, it is the slow changes that happen, unnoticed at the time, which better explain how most organizational cultures develop. Not actively managing your culture doesn’t cause it to quickly turn off course, but instead allows it to drift slowly astray until one day you wonder how you got to Baffin Island when you thought you were headed for Halifax.

This reality came into clear focus about two years ago within the Social Assistance and Employment Opportunities (SAEO) division at the Niagara Region. At that time, I was the Human Resources Consultant (HRC) supporting the Community Service Department (which includes the SAEO Division) of the Niagara Region. As an HRC, I acted as the lead contact and strategic resource for the management team of my client group. Since that time, we have been on an exciting and interesting path characterized by thinking differently about what boundaries mean and how to use them to keep culture on course.

SAEO, one of three operating divisions within the Community Services Department of the Regional Municipality of Niagara, administers the Ontario Works program to approximately 10,500 households within the Niagara region who are experiencing significant financial hardship (Niagara Region, 2014). The SAEO team includes over 220 employees comprised mainly of unionized (CUPE) staff.

Would Roger Martin consider HRM to be a profession?

Would Roger Martin consider HRM to be a profession?To be frank, the academic literature on what makes a profession is not very accessible. Here is something of a different take on the topic. For some time, there has been an ongoing debate in the Harvard Business Review as to whether business management is, or should be, a profession. The debate started with an article written by Khurana, Nohria, and Penrice in 2005 entitled Is business management a profession?(1) A cogent rebuttal was published a few years later by Richard Barker in a 2010 article entitled The Big Idea: No, Management Is Not a Profession.(2) The debate drew commentary from many sources, one such commentary was by Roger Martin in an HBR Blog dated July 2010 entitled Management is not a profession — but it can be taught.(3) In this blog, Martin laid out his profession calculus:

So my basic calculus is as follows: If quality can’t be determined in advance and cost of failure is high, the market in question will attract regulation. And if the product/service is delivered by a single identifiable individual, it will become a regulated profession. If it doesn’t attract regulation, it doesn’t matter a whit whether an activity is deemed by its participants to be a ‘profession.’

It is this calculus and its application to Human Resources Management (HRM) which is the subject of this article.

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