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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Workplace Doctor: Cutting access to drivers is costing me and my team

Being able to manage this change well is an important leadership skill

Abu Dhabi, UAE, April 28, 2015: Motorists race along the E11 during rush hour traffic. Lee Hoagland/The National
Abu Dhabi, UAE, April 28, 2015: Motorists race along the E11 during rush hour traffic. Lee Hoagland/The National

I work for a sales and marketing company and until recently my team and I had access to a pool of drivers the firm used who would take us to whatever meetings we needed to attend, often far from our offices in Al Ain, such as Dubai, or Abu Dhabi. However, last month it was decided that these drivers would no longer be available to me and my team and other middle managers and would be the sole preserve of upper management. This means not only do we now have to drive ourselves, or in some instances where a team member does not have a car, take taxis or buses, the petrol costs and ride fares are not being covered by the firm. Two of my team have already said they intend to quit over this if it is not resolved and I fear more will follow. How can I address this before it becomes a very real crisis?

JT, Al Ain

It can be difficult to come to terms with a change in the work environment when it is perceived as inconvenient or unfair, so a good understanding of the rationale behind the decision will be important. Unless this is a clear contractual benefit that has been removed, which will be difficult to change without consent, the company is able to introduce changes as it sees fit for the good of the organisation. From your perspective, being able to manage this change well is an important leadership skill, and will be instrumental in the ongoing commitment and motivation of your team.

In situations like this, it is worthwhile therefore to develop a good understanding of how your team members might be experiencing the change, so that you can help them navigate through the process effectively. While there are a number of good change models and theories to draw upon to help you as a guide, it’s often the psychological aspects of personal change that can be most helpful at an individual and team level. The Kubler Ross Change Curve effectively illustrates the emotions we tend to experience when faced with change.

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The model was informed by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ initial research in relation to bereavement and loss. Since then, her concept has been applied to many organisational situations relating to change and consists of five stages: shock; denial; anger and blame; confusion and depression; and finally acceptance and integration. As a manager, being able to identify at which stage your individual team members are, enables you to better anticipate their current emotional responses and needs - which will be essential in supporting them through the process from resistance to acceptance.

Once you have an understanding of your team’s psychological responses to the change, it’s also important to know the context surrounding the change. In your case, try to find out or consider the potential reasons behind the decision to discontinue driver access to you and your team. Given the current economic climate, your company may see this as a necessary and efficient cost cutting measure. Furthermore, it may be an attempt to bring competitive practices in alignment with the rest of your industry sector, where having access to drivers for meetings may not be commonly seen. It is crucial that you have clarity on the purpose and necessity of the change, so that you are able to work at both the rational and emotional dimensions with your team.

That said, your accessibility and ongoing communication now become central to leading your team members through this change. There is a need for you to continuously notice and enquire as to where each team member is in relation to the five stages, and what support or other interventions they may require to help them progress towards acceptance. It is also important to help your employees keep this change in perspective, and thereby maintain a positive or at least reasonable mind-set across the team. Not paying attention to this and allowing the team to slip into a "deficit spiral" can cause compounding, detrimental outcomes. Yes, this may be an immediate inconvenience or benefit loss, but how is this in relation to the broader perspectives of their roles, the organisation and their future prospects? It is well documented that benefits are only one factor in terms of people’s motivation, performance and well-being. In fact, your leadership plays a much more important and residual role across these dimensions.

Doctor’s prescription:

Pulling all the above elements together will help you implement a process to navigate the change. Be mindful of your own responses in the change process and how the mind-set you bring will have a significant impact on your team. Consider what support you may need to engage your team members and help build commitment in working together to a point of acceptance.