In the agile world of business, change is something that most businesses will experience at some point. It might be that your business needs to adjust its opening hours, introduce a shift working pattern or change its organisational design or job roles.
Whatever your reason is for making a change, it’s important that the change should occur with minimal disruption to the business operation and employee morale.
If you employ 20 or more employees, you are legally required to follow a consultation process known as ‘collective consultation’.
This is a separate, more onerous process to the one which we will describe below. If you employ fewer than 20 employees, the following guidance can be used to assist you in making your changes smoothly.
We would always recommend that any business changes should be introduced by following three key stages: planning, consultation and implementation.
Once you decide to make changes to how your business operates, it is good practice to prepare a document which sets out the detailed responses to the following questions:
What is the specific problem you are seeking to address?
Who does that problem affect?
How will you achieve a solution to the problem?
What results will the proposed change bring to the business?
How long will it take for the change to occur and the expected outcomes to materialise?
Documenting your responses to the above will create a plan (a business case) of what you propose to do and the reasons why you need to do it. Once you have this clearly documented, it is easier to communicate the proposed changes to those who will be affected. Getting individuals onboard with any proposed changes is always the biggest hurdle, but one which can usually be overcome if you are able to communicate your business case persuasively.
Consultation will involve the employees in a two-way dialogue about the detail of your business case, with a view to gaining their commitment to the changes proposed. Face-to-face consultation is more likely to create confidence that you have sound business reasons for making the change, and that these are in the interest of the employees as well as the business.
Tact needs to be exercised. If you simply tell your employees of the changes you intend to make and when they will be effective, you are likely to encounter resistance.
Disgruntled employees can be disruptive to your business, as their behaviour can adversely impact on the delivery of business objectives and ultimately your bottom line.
Meaningful consultation can also bring to light any potential difficulties employees may have, for example with childcare or health impairments.
If the employees have legal rights pertaining to the identified difficulties, special consideration would need to occur, and you may need to find alternative solutions. It is also a legal requirement to have a reasonable period of consultation with employees before making any fundamental changes to their contracts.
Ensure you set a reasonable timeframe for when the change will become effective. For minor contractual changes, the shortest acceptable implementation time following meaningful consultation is usually one month. However, if the changes are fundamental, notice should usually be up to 12 weeks, i.e. one week for every year of service.
Finally, if any of your employees are totally uncooperative and resist the change without good cause, seek legal advice on how to manage them.