Current wisdom in the CRE industry is that no relocation, corporate merger, workplace fit out or outsourcing arrangement can take place successfully without a well-constructed change management program.Previously all occurred successfully as part of normal business processes. So what is new? The simple answer is: the business landscape has changed.


In the past, companies focused on stability and slow but sure growth. Markets were closed, prices were kept in check, people stayed in their jobs and life was good. Changes tended to happen incrementally, on a predictable basis. But today change happens rapidly, regularly in discontinuous patterns – unpredictable and disjointed – and never ceasing. Hence the emergence of change management.


New technology is creating efficiencies (and some unexpected inefficiencies) and changing the way we do business, enabling new approaches to work and workplaces. Open plan offices, desk sharing and mobile working have become the norm. Offices are no longer status symbols reflecting the corporate hierarchy. And integrated physical and virtual workplaces provide new meaning to the design mantra of form follows function. Simultaneously, there is renewed corporate focus on core skills – cutting out the “fat” and outsourcing everything else. With the focus on corporate performance, evolving groupings and changing structures are constant.


Exacerbating these changes are the emerging demographic groupings. Loyalties and personal values have changed. Flexible career paths and itinerant relationships with employers means securing and retaining top talent is challenging. If not managed and treated appropriately, workers will vote with their feet, so workforce engagement with impending change is critical. With all these factors it is no wonder that change management has become the new corporate consulting necessity, particularly for major relocations.


The power of place

The power that new locations wield in facilitating corporate changes in the working environment is immense. Certainly it is one of the best ways to convey the message to the entire team that “things around here are now different”.


On-going technology advances and changing workplace trends mean relocations are likely to have significant and profound workplace change implications, not merely incremental differences. So there is a need for the team to be re-educated to ensure they are engaged and invigorated.


When the team arrives for the fi rst time at new premises – different address, different feel, different branding, different protocols, different layouts, different workplaces – and everything works, the message is clear: things have changed. Companies seeking to make major corporate changes in work processes and cultures can use relocation as the primary change enabler, even if leases on existing premises are not expiring.


Obviously the financial implications of these lease exits need to be managed, but with new leadership, or a merger, or a change in business direction, new premises can be the primary mechanism to bring about the new order – without anyone doubting the intent. Do not underestimate the power of place in changing business operations.


Not a democratic process

The uninitiated believe relocation change management is all about letting the employees decide. Wrong – relocations are business decisions and are undertaken to provide the optimum outcome for the company, including customer interactions, business processes, employee engagement and financial results. Consultations need to be broad, covering business processes and financial requirements and the team needs to be consulted and informed throughout the process, but ultimately it is a management decision.


Making decisions that result in major staff attrition are probably not good for the business, but everyone’s ideas and wants cannot be accommodated. Worker involvement can be via focus groups, testing and selecting from a short-listed range of workstations, accessories, and colours. Give choice to the team, but limit the choice. Provide teams with budgets, albeit limited, to personalise team space.


Sincerity in the communicated message is critical. If it is all about cost cutting – and this is the business direction – let everyone know and strive to get the best outcome within those parameters. Honesty and clear communication is the key focus area. The whole process is best treated as leadership by a benevolent dictator.


What do you give back?

Although not a democratic process, there is a belief that if you take something away, the team will expect something back. But is a cappuccino machine just compensation for taking away private offices? Maybe the rewards are more practical: better work processes, new reward structures, new electronic “gizmos” to assist in mobile working. And be aware that these expectations of rewards may vary for different generational groups. Major relocations are expected to have a “wow” factor. Although the building and new location will be known to all and some initial limited site tours may have taken place, the fi nal product and full offerings of the great new workplace are usually kept as a surprise.On the Monday morning, with all the goods moved in over the weekend and everything up and running, the team arrives with some trepidation and great expectations. This is the moment of truth – much of the future success of the new workplace hangs on the fi rst impression. It’s not a good idea to have glitches; not a good idea to disappoint; and not a good idea to fall short of expectations.


Plan for the unexpected

Simplistically, relocation change management has three stages. Firstly the planning and preparation: revisiting the vision and purpose, addressing the human side through all layers, overcoming inertia and dismantling existing mindsets, designing the new workplace culture, communicating to by-pass defense mechanisms and creating ownership. The next stage is all about implementation and transition: rolling-out the vision with on-going communications, managing the human landscape through periods of confusion as old ways are challenged and maintaining momentum. The fi nal stage is after the move: embedding new processes, crystallising the new mindset, allowing comfort levels to return in the new order and doing post-occupancy evaluations and adjustments. But during relocations “stuff happens”, so plan for the unexpected.


There are many causes for the unexpected including no shared vision or common direction, not separating from the past, not having a sense of urgency and/or strong leadership and/or political sponsorship, poor implementation plans, poor communications and not institutionalising the change to make it stick. Resistance to change can be powerful and is usually manifested by loss of identity, feelings of disorientation, withdrawal and increasing attitudes of negativity. So watch for the signs.


Well-managed relocations are not the panacea for all management ills. Great new premises with the best change management plans implemented are unlikely to enhance business performance if bad management processes and leaders are entrenched. This is a lost opportunity. Bad management practices should not be replicated at great expense in great new premises. In relocations, second prize is not an option. The opportunity for the next major relocation may be a long time coming. Good change management processes are paramount. However cynics suggest that bad change management does have a place – to force change that is otherwise difficult to achieve. Maybe 30 percent staff attrition is desired – just a pity if it is the best of the team that leave

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