'Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.'
-Francis Bacon

There is very little in this world that stays the same; the one certainty is that everything will change, in its own time. Through our own lives, change never stops, and we must make the best of the opportunities we have whilst being buffeted by influences beyond our control. In business, too, there is no constancy, and where there are changes that we can manipulate every advantage must be gleaned from them; if we fail to make the most of new circumstances when they are open to our influence, we will invariably be hit harder by those that are not.

Halsall's has been, for many years, a business divided between groceries and consumer durables (such as furniture and appliances). The gradual decline of the former, under persistent pressure from the major supermarkets, coupled with strong growth in the latter has led to a momentous decision: after the better part of a century, Halsall's is going to stop selling food. This is a huge but fundamentally sensible shift; although there will be some redundancies and relocations, there will also be aspects of the business that grow and flourish, and many employees will transfer from food to non-food items to support this.

This includes Ajmal, and the distribution department he heads. They've long been focused solely on the grocery side of the business, but with the company's new direction, they'll shortly be merged into an expanded home electronics section. Ajmal and all his staff are understandably relieved that they've not been hit with any redundancies, yet there's still considerable unease within the department about what the change will entail - in order for the change to be carried through smoothly, and for the department and the wider business to prosper, he has to counteract this disquiet and ensure that all his staff are comfortable, aware, and committed to the process.

Fear of change is rarely what is seems. Ajmal's staff won't be simply afraid of change: concerns stem instead from uncertainty about the future, not fearing the transfer itself but its consequences. So, in order to put a stop to the fear, Ajmal should look to promote understanding - the more his staff know about the future plans, the less unease there'll be - and the manner in which he does this can be critical. Ideally, he'd like to be able to discuss this with everyone individually, and for smaller departments or organisations, that would certainly be the best approach. However, time and geographical constraints (the process has a strict deadline, and not all employees are in the same office at the same time, due to the nature of their work) make this impractical.

Inevitably, the information will have to be communicated in a letter - a letter that Ajmal needs to ensure is clear, comprehensible, and not too formal. More important than this, though, is the guarantee he'll offer to all staff, a guarantee that he'll be available for any private discussion to discuss the situation, for any feedback or questions that staff members may have. It's not realistic to expect all concerns be dealt with at once, or for any doubts and queries to be raised immediately, so Ajmal must assure the staff that he'll be there if ever they need him. A good manager should be able to lead confidently and with the confidence of his or her team, and providing everyone with all the support and information they require will help create that confidence; it also encourages the team to trust their leader if (and hopefully this won't happen) an unexpected eventuality needs to be dealt with.

Ajmal can also help the process to run more smoothly by clearly showing how it is expected to run. A timeline of events and a to-do list will help to clarify who needs to do what and when, whilst also illustrating every development that's likely to come the department's way, every tangible change that his staff will be faced with. With this information understood in advance, nothing will come as a surprise, and obstacles that are already prepared for will always be easier to pass.

Such matters are at the heart of a successful transition. Fear of change, of uncertainty, can be salved by an understanding of what is happening, why, what it will involve and how the ultimate consequences will pan out - and in his willingness always to listen to feedback and address concerns, Ajmal makes it easier to ensure that such an understanding is within the reach of all his staff. Of course, it's important that he has the awareness and communication skills to make the most of this situation - a short training course may help a great deal in this respect. However, with patience, consideration, and those key skills, he can be sure that a brighter future awaits for his department, for himself, and for the company as a whole.