Change management serves to support teams and individuals through organizational change, ensuring they feel confident about the road ahead and able to continue fulfilling their ever-evolving duties.
All organizations need a solid change management framework, but it’s especially important for startups since change is so frequent and far-reaching in early-stage businesses. It’s not planning change for the sake of planning; it must be sensible, applicable and manageable for the long haul.
The thing is, change management isn’t something you simply start doing. To effectively manage change, you first need to know where your company is going and then invest in workforce planning, which allows you to ensure you have the right people in place to row with the changing tide. AKA: Getting your team capable of making change.
Here’s a closer look at the role workforce planning plays in change management, and how to avoid the challenges that tie back to poor workforce planning.
What Happens When Workforce Planning Goes Wrong?
When a startup takes a flawed approach to workforce planning, or fails to consider it at all, there are several consequences for the organization, especially when it comes to your team’s ability to prepare for change.
Teams aren’t prepared to do their best work.
An astoundingly high-performing team that excels at serving SMBs, for example, is not necessarily ready to serve enterprise clients.
Even exceptional employees can become low-performing ones very quickly if a workforce readiness plan hasn’t been implemented to keep them current with your organization’s changing standards, tools, processes, and customer demands.
Beyond helping your team gain new skills and knowledge, workforce planning will also help with leadership development and role alignment.
Loss of direction starts to dilute company value.
As startups grow, so do the responsibilities of you and your team. If you’ve been hiring the right people, your employees should be comfortable (and even eager) to reach beyond their job description and help pick up the slack, but the absence of workforce planning can lead to your team being stretched far too thin.
Startups that find themselves headed down this path aren’t prepared for varied work and continued growth, and overall value can become diluted. Dedicated employees who put in their sweat equity start to wonder, “where are we going, and what’s my role in the future of this company?”
Let’s say you have a salesperson responsible for account management and the proposal process. This works great when you have three clients, but it doesn’t scale. By saying yes to supporting the proposal process, that sales pro is saying no to time that could be used engaging net-new business prospects. As you start taking on new clients, essential activities fall through the cracks — like pre/post-sale support — leaving gaps that will gash the bottom line and take significant time to fix if not planned for proactively.
Uncertain hiring decisions hamper productivity.
When you’re in growth mode, you know you need to account for limited bandwidth while closing skills gaps, but what’s the top priority? Without a vision for each role, those responsible for hiring will have little clarity in regards to what the candidate is really being evaluated for — and that makes choosing the right fit impossible.
If your startup invests in workforce planning, you’ll be able to uncover the specific skills and responsibilities of every role long before you hire, along with the essential context of how each role will evolve as the company grows.
Poor forecasting can disrupt company growth.
When startups make an attempt at workforce planning, it’s critical that they incorporate data from business KPIs to employee survey feedback. Learn what matters most for your hiring forecasts – an informed hiring effort will result in better outcomes. Teams following a plan driven by rough guesses can end up making major blunders, something we’ve seen lately even among the most established companies.
Salesforce is a powerful example. After laying off 10% of its workforce in early 2023 as part of a cost-cutting effort, the CEO later asked former staff to return to the company as they announced they were hiring 3,000 new employees just months later. Shareholder duties and margins certainly played a part in that decision, but was the short-term gain worth the long recovery ahead as they re-recruit workers to return? This mistake impacted productivity and the company’s bottom line in more ways than one. It also has far-reaching impact on employee morale that could take years to resolve.
Using Workforce Planning to Inform Change Management
With a deeper understanding of how workforce planning can impact change management, whether for better or worse, what steps can your startup take to avoid those mistakes? Here are a few aspects to consider.
Workforce planning allows your organization to take a more proactive, forward-thinking approach to change management. By seeing the changes that lie ahead, you can start approaching them as more of a gradual transformation than a sudden shift.
To achieve sound foresight, make sure you account for factors like market trends, customer demand, technological developments, regulatory changes, and competitive pressures.
- What is the vision for my company ahead?
- What problems are we solving and for whom?
- Where can we innovate to stay relevant, and anticipate future problems of customers?
- Who do we need on our team to get “there”? Why?
- What’s reasonable for one hire’s scope of work, and how does that influence our headcount ahead?
- What skills and competencies will we need? How will they differ from our current workforce? How will they align with our vision and strategy?
Remember: Change is constant. To keep anticipating change effectively, you need to conduct regular reviews of the current and future states of the marketplace, business, and talent landscape — that’s a process known as scenario planning, and it should be part of your workforce planning initiatives.
Prepping Leaders to Manage Change
When change is happening, who is accountable for following through and making it happen successfully?
Whoever champions the change process will be responsible for ensuring the workforce is ready to meet future moments. They’re in charge of asking: What skills do workers need to level up on for what is coming? What do they need to understand about the direction ahead and the impact they have? How will their functions change and how can we prepare them for that?
It will also be the responsibility of the change leader to co-determine with other leaders what healthy transparency looks like. Communicating with employees early and often will help instill confidence and trust in your workforce, but it must involve thoughtful messaging from the right people.
It’s up to the change leader to coordinate the entire change management process, and it’s not an easy undertaking.
Approaching Change as a Long-Term Transformation
When done right, change management isn’t a consulting buzzword, it’s in constant practice. A healthy approach will give you time to solicit feedback, deal with change resistance, tweak your rollout, and correct course if things aren’t going to plan.
Throughout the process, take strides to recognize and reward your “early adaptors” of change readiness — those who stay current on company goals, the changes ahead, and the talent gaps that one’s workforce planning and hiring forecast should prepare to close.
Above all, don’t assume things have been successfully “frozen” in their new place. Change is never a standalone event, nor is it ever truly complete. It may not be necessary to invent new processes or policies — but, then again, it might. A pre-seed plan looks very different than your workforce planning after closing a Series C (and so on).
Techniques like the 9-box grid can help you evaluate where employees are performing against current needs and where they are headed compared to the future needs of the business. Workforce change is happening whether we call it that or not; people change, companies change, and if both change together, for the better, then you’ve got something special in place.
Best Practices for Handling Workforce Changes
Taking a thoughtful approach to workforce change will help your organization continue to pursue growth and innovation while cultivating a strong company culture. To help balance these priorities, remember these best practices:
- Engage: Everyone who will be affected by a change should be actively engaged in the planning, implementation, and evaluation that surrounds the change process. Let them know that their input is valued and appreciated.
- Empower: All of your team members, particularly those affected by change, should be empowered to take risks, pursue ideas, and innovate, so they can achieve a greater sense of ownership and impact within your organization. Help your team identify their blockers. Help them break through so they can meet their moments ahead.
- Embed: Each time a change takes place, review the evolution and take notes on what worked (and didn’t) in the process. Any lessons gained for future workforce readiness? Also take time to learn from the things that didn’t work, and improve what’s in your control.
Change is hard. But change represents opportunity, and that’s the mindset that the best change leaders are able to instill in employees, helping to ensure that even those directly impacted by change go through the process with a positive outlook. And it’s much easier to arrive at that forward-thinking perspective when you have a strong workforce plan to back your change initiatives.
Are you using workforce planning to inform your talent management and hiring decisions? If not, Digital Knack can help. You can read more about the The Role of Recruiting in Workforce Planning before reaching out to Digital Knack.
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