Most organisations acknowledge that change is a strategic imperative to stay ahead of new technological and economic developments. As businesses around the world have struggled to navigate pandemic-induced uncertainty and shifting consumer behaviour, it’s understandable why many have pursued organisational transformation in the hope that it’ll enable the business to operate at a higher level—to become more agile, productive, innovative and profitable.
But when strategies, technology, systems or structures change, the way people think, work and behave need to change accordingly. Failure to acknowledge your people in the process can instead create employee concern and weariness about the future and could be detrimental to the success of your program.
In our experience working with some of Australia’s most complex and progressive companies, we know that one of the key challenges during a transformation is employee resistance and the knock-on effect this has on the adoption of new behaviours. Employees can often feel unheard, disconnected and powerless amid ongoing transformation as an indirect response to an underlying concern caused by uncertainty, stress and a loss of control. As a result, this resistance can be the very cause of the failure of most transformations.
So how do you overcome this resistance and raise your employees’ commitment to change?
In order to successfully prepare your business and people for change, a collaborative, multi-level effort is essential to establish a change-ready cultural mindset.
Provide a roadmap for the journey
During times of uncertainty, people experiencing change want a clear view of the journey ahead, and in order to connect strategic intent to change, a roadmap is required to communicate the delivery and establish organisational flow. This should take into consideration the vision for change, and if the approach will be either Big Bang or incremental.
Just as important as the how is a coherent narrative communicating the why behind change to encourage buy-in from your employees. Executives and those responsible for leading change can’t assume that employees understand the reasoning behind the action or how their role impacts the bigger picture for change. So, it’s important to share what you know—including what’s changing, when and how that translates to them personally. Equally important is admitting to what you don’t know to ensure complete transparency.
As part of taking employees on the journey, sharing the story behind the big picture helps frame the foundation for how you communicate change moving forward. This buy-in mindset will help shape a cultural evolution with small steps taken consistently and reinforced over time.
Invite participation in change
Regardless of the method used to deliver your change program, change adoption is more successful when your people are involved in improving the processes they’re responsible for. Offering your employees the opportunity to co-create organisational change also illustrates your respect for their opinion, which will infuse loyalty and engagement with the transformation project.
People don’t naturally lean into change, and resistance isn’t always deliberate.
A simple example we’ve observed in large organisations, from financial services to utilities, is how access to funding for particular departments can have the ability to derail your project unless there’s input and participation from that department.
In one instance, a simple move from annual to quarterly funding transformed how a team managed and reported budgets, avoided lengthy, time-consuming pitches and kept the project moving.
Simply by involving and connecting your people to your reason for change (your why) and paying attention to mindset and operational barriers, you can design a systemic change effort that has a higher likelihood of success than traditional process-based approaches. In our experience, people are much more likely to adopt a change-ready mindset if they understand and are part of the case for change.
Dedicate time and resources
Transformations are a significant undertaking and getting your people to commit and invest in them means giving the change program sufficient time and resources to succeed.
Major transformations often require asking employees and leaders to adopt new behaviours or skillsets in order to be successful. To empower leaders and managers to model this new way of working, they need to be supported on how to be an effective leader during times of change, how individuals react to and navigate change, and how to address roadblocks or areas of resistance.
Creating a toolkit of resources such as external coaching or training can therefore be a valuable asset to your program.
Leadership should also expect that the arrival rate for acceptance will vary, so acceptance of this and the willingness to support people through a transformation will make it more impactful.
Coherent internal communication is a crucial part of the change program. A lack of communication and information might result in a lack of understanding of the individual and organisational impact of the change.
Just telling people to be change ready doesn’t work; however, communicating the nature of the change, connecting to your ‘why’ and demonstrating how senior leaders are doing their bit to lead the way, acts as motivation to change.
To improve your chances of keeping people on the journey, continuously seeking and responding to feedback will also ensure people feel they’re being heard.
Organisational transformation requires more than a vision and a checklist to be successful. Simply by taking a more human approach and thinking how you can guide, inform, empower and engage your most powerful assets (your people), you’ll successfully create a more sustainable and more agile internal culture for the future.