I do lots of work in organizational change. Many of my clients struggle with how to overcome employee resistance and skepticism to change. The reality is, many change initiatives fail due to “people” issues.
If leaders want employees to forego what is familiar and comfortable, they must connect with people on a personal level. Employees don’t want to be sold on change, they want to be engaged.
So, how can leaders motivate and engage others in the change process. Here are four (4) keys.
1 Employees need to understand why the change is necessary. All too often, leaders communicate what is going to be better about the future, but fail to explain what is wrong with the present. It is practically impossible for employees to embrace change when they don’t understand why the change is needed, especially when they value what currently exists. From my experience, very few managers can effectively articulate what’s driving the change, because this has not been sufficiently communicated to them.
Solution: Spend considerable time, especially at the outset of change, providing detailed explanations and examples of what is causing the change. Convey information that is meaningful to the people being asked to change. Explain the cost or risk to impacted stakeholders, of not changing. Communicate in a grounded way – avoid high level jargon or “corporate speak”.
2. Employees need to be involved in the change. I realize that the strategic direction is determined at the executive level, but once the change is determined, leaders must involve those being asked to change. All too often, employees believe the change is imposed on them without any meaningful opportunity to input or influence.
Solution: Change will be much more successful if employees are invited to provide input, suggest how the change can best be implemented, and be given feedback on their input. They need to be viewed as change partners who can add value as the change unfolds. Without their input, it becomes an executive “vision” without the operational experience that middle management can provide. The “what” of change is determined at higher levels, but the “how” needs to be collaborative. Remember: People are always more committed to solutions they have input into.
3. Employees need to know that their interests matter. Typically, when leaders communicate change, they focus on the organizational benefits but neglect to articulate the employee needs and concerns that accompany the change. When only the positives are being conveyed, employees worry that their issues are not being considered. This leads to heightened anxiety and resistance, which may eventually curtail the change. It is impossible for employees to embrace the corporate initiative if the “me” issues aren’t acknowledged and discussed.
Solution: From the get-go, leaders must communicate what they perceive to be employees needs and concerns, and how management plans to support or lessen these concerns. That doesn’t mean that everything can be “fixed”, but it does reassure employees that their interests are important and are being factored into the change plan. Proactively acknowledging employee concerns demonstrates that management has done its homework and creates a “safety net” for employees to speak up about issues and needs. In effect, leaders are building trust and goodwill which is critical during change. Employees must feel confident that management supports them as they embark on new learning and ways of functioning.
4. Employees need to know what isn’t changing; that is, what stays the same. Employees take pride in what they do and what they have contributed in their tenure with the organization. So, when change is perceived as total “transformation”, this can upset employees who have invested time and effort in the current operation. Change leaders frequently forget to remind employees of those things that are valued, that will continue unchanged.
Solution: Leaders must acknowledge and convey those aspects of the current situation that will continue to exist after the change is complete. This message can be repeated periodically and will have a “calming” effect on employees who otherwise might worry that their whole world is being turned upside down. Employees need to be reassured that change leaders are not “throwing out the baby with the bathwater
At RHR, we teach these concepts in our Managing and Leading Change program. Attendees learn a “Strategic Influencing 4-Box Model” for engaging others in change, and apply this model to their actual workplace change initiatives.
We also use an assessment tool (Strength Deployment Inventory) to illustrate the four core motivations of people undergoing organizational change, and how these can be leveraged. These core motivations are: (i) Having clarity on the reasons for the change and the plan/process to make it work (ii) Knowledge that people issues/needs are being considered and supported (iii) Stakeholder input and involvement in how the change is being implemented and (iv) Compelling outcomes and results that will make the change effort worthwhile.
Robert has written three books, most recently: Leading Change – Inform, Involve, Ignite. Robert is also ProSci certified in the ADKAR methodology for succeeding at organizational change.