MODERN companies are constantly in transition. For an increasing number, transition means a merger or acquisition.

About 87 per cent of companies believe mergers and acquisitions are likely to increase over the coming years due to consolidation of the various industries in response to the current global economic climate.

Even for companies who sustain their existing structure, the need to respond to fast-moving markets and more demanding customers, together with the pressure of a growing global scarcity of talent, means almost 25 per cent of managers in a typical Fortune 500 company will change jobs each year.

Organisations could do a better job of managing all these transitions. McKinsey & Co. estimates typical productivity losses of 45 per cent during a major transition. When just one manager changes a job, the productivity of at least 12 other people is impacted for an average of over six months.

Over the long term, Peter Cappelli of Wharton Business School says that “the constant churning caused by these reorganisations generates costs and develops long-term cynicism”.

No wonder only 12 per cent of executives are currently very satisfied with their organisation’s ability to facilitate organisational change.

Every chief executive officer knows what makes the difference between rapid response companies and those who suffer from strategic drift or failed attempts to change: their people.

Get the right people doing the right things, as Jim Collins says in Good to Great, and success will follow. Organisations with above-average bench strength are four times likelier to outperform their industry peers.

But aligning employees with a company’s strategy is not easy, especially in a time of organisational change. People are distracted from their jobs by worries about their own job security and their future with the company. Some will be tempted to end the uncertainty and disruption by going elsewhere.

Others will stay, but their performance is likely to suffer as they struggle to understand new expectations within a new organisational structure, and perhaps in a new work location.

Hiring new, more responsive employees may not work for two reasons: first, anyone entering an organisation will face many of the same transition challenges as existing employees. Second, good people in every industry are at a premium.

In a recent survey of international business executives earlier, 84 per cent said competition for talent has increased over the last five years and 80 per cent expected it to increase next year.

Customised process

Organisations that want to accelerate their responsiveness to change need to enhance the speed and success of their existing employees’ individual transitions.

Each employee will be at a different point in the alignment process with the organisation’s goals. Some will fully understand the strategy, have a clear vision of their personal roles in it, and be able and willing to present themselves effectively to secure the right positions in the new organisation.

Most employees, however, will be less aligned. A recent study showed that many senior executives believe less than half their people fully understand the company’s strategic goals.

Even those people who do understand the company’s strategy and their part in it may find their productivity impacted by disruptions to the jobs of colleagues, and by uncertainty over their own future.

This can lead to increased levels of stress and diminished productivity that can do serious damage to a business.

Support and training is usually composed of isolated events that fail to have an impact on employees’ day-to-day activities.

Only 20 per cent believe training provided by their organisation has helped to advance their career, and only 38 per cent believe they work in areas where they best perform.

Transition support needs to recognise that people have individual motivations and capabilities, and need to align with the organisation in unique ways.

In a company looking to outsource a function over time, for example, employees need to balance making plans for their future with maximum performance on their current job.

Getting help with the former will make them far more inclined to devote themselves to the latter.

Once companies have an accurate picture of where people are, they can help each individual accordingly.

Such individualised help can be delivered at scale, speed and with great cost-effectiveness. No company can or should design individual transition programmes for all employees, or put the entire organisation into a classroom situation to prepare them for change.

Neither is standalone e-learning suitable. To be completely effective in enhancing an individual’s speed and success of transition, organisations need to shift from giving general guidance and information to personal interaction and coaching.

Transition responsiveness will be increased if the organisation’s needs for cost-effectiveness and scale are balanced with the individual employee’s desire for high touch, personalised help.