Improving Engagement in the Change Management Process
In the last few days I have had several conversations with existing and prospective clients on the challenges their organizations are facing, particularly as they undergo significant change. A common theme is that, regardless of industry, the needs and expectations of employees are often overlooked during the change progress. It’s not until late in the game that organizational leaders implement communication protocols, conduct focus group discussion and host town hall meetings.
While the ‘science’ of change management is required for success, the ‘art’ comes from knowing when and how to engage employees in the change process to ensure high levels of engagement and adoption.
Why Change Is So Hard
It doesn’t matter if you are a senior leader or a front line colleague, everyone, at some level, resists change. It’s natural and normal. Assuming that employees should be eager welcome all changes is unrealistic. Even changes that we want to make (think of all your new year’s resolution) are still incredibility difficult to execute and maintain. Why? Because we must go through 3 stages before we can adopt change.
Stage 1 – Undoing:
This stage involves letting go of the old way of doing things or our old identity. This can create a sense of loss from attachments we have or routines we have followed. Losing what was certain and stable is hard even when change is for the better. There must be a strong motivation for change by employees, coupled with clear communication regarding the vision for the future.
Stage 2 – Learning:
At this stage, we must learn new concepts or new ways of doing things. This happens through trial and error. At this point we are ‘in between’ fully letting go of our old habits and adopting a new way. Employees require at this stage strong role models that demonstrate the new behaviours, attitudes and tasks.
Stage 3 – Locking In:
The final stage that we go through during change is locking in and internalizing the new concepts, behaviours or actions so that change can be solidified. It’s a time of new beginnings by adopting a new way of doing things. At this stage, it is important that employees attach a sense of purpose to what they are doing so that the change can be successful.
Based on these stages, leaders should assume that there will initially be resistance to change. That’s a normal part of the process. The reason change initiatives fail is because leadership don’t effectively support their teams through the undoing, learning and locking in stages. To be an effective leader, you need to be able to recognize at what stage employees are at, if they are stuck, and help them move through the process. All employees must full reach the locking in stage to ensure the change takes root.
Effectively Implementing Change
As leaders often we are asked to implement changes when we haven’t yet fully internalized the changes ourselves. We might still be working through the undoing stage or figuring out in the learning stage how we need to adapt. This makes it a challenge to champion the change and to effectively lead employees to full acceptance and adoption. The best ways to effectively implement a change is to focus on communication and support, which includes the following actions:
- Communicate a clear, shared vision for change – help employees understand the why
- Describe the future state rationally and in a business context
- Build a communication plan that includes consistent, regular touch points with employees throughout the change process
- Engage senior leaders to act as spokespeople through formal communication methods to reinforce the need to change and the future benefits
- Listen without judgement to employees as they share their fears or challenges in going through the change process
- Strive to maintain as much consistency as possible during the change
- Personalize the benefits of the change for each employee on your team
- Solicit employee opinions and ideas on how to successfully implement the change
- Lead by example by “walking the talk”
- Empower employees to implement changes by delegating responsibilities
Keep in mind that, in a multigenerational workforce, each generation will exhibit different reactions to the change process. While there can be strong resisters to change from all four generations, you will be most successful if you can tailor your message to each generation’s values and expectations. For example:
- Traditionalists will want to know how the change will benefit the organization and the business reasons behind the change. In their world, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ was the mantra. Explain the need for the change.
- Baby Boomers may be cautious of the change since they have experienced a lot of changes in their careers which weren’t always positive. Provide a plan for how you will support , coach and train them to be successful in the future state.
- Gen Xers focus on results and will be seeking to understand what’s in it for them. Personalize the impact the change will have on them and highlight the new opportunities that will exist in the future state.
- Gen Ys are eager for changes to be implemented. They embrace change and view it as a positive. Engage them as champions of the change and communicate how the future state will increase their ability to contribute and add value. Solicit this generation’s ideas and opinions throughout the change process to keep engagement levels high.
As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.