How to Better Involve Employees During Organizational Change

How to Better Involve Employees During Organizational Change
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Getting Organizational Change Right
Our challenge as leaders is to create organizations that are capable of constant learning, adaptation, and change.  Because of increasing customer demands, competitive threats, and disruptive technologies, we believe that the most successful companies of the future will be the ones that consistently and effectively involve and empower employees during organizational change.  Why?

Because business as usual is no longer viable.  Strategy design, action planning, change management, and strategy implementation must become inseparable if you want employee commitment, engagement, and follow through. With the pressure to constantly change, you’d think that leaders would have mastered the art of navigating change.  Sadly, the opposite is true.

The Difficulty of Organizational Change
Up to 70% of organizational change transformations reportedly fail to meet expectations. This is an alarming statistic. While we know that organizational change can be complex, difficult, and fraught with risk, there is no doubt that employees, leaders, and companies must adapt in order to keep pace.

What’s Going Wrong with Organizational Change Today
One of the main reasons organizational change fails is that it is not supported by those who must carry it out – the frontline managers and employees.  And why is that?  Employees are not likely to support or commit to a change initiative they don’t understand or one that lacks a persuasive rationale.

The underlying problem is that the change has not involved employees from the start.  Too many well-intentioned leaders follow ineffective change strategies.  Leaders need to better involve employees during organizational change.

Here are the most common strategies for effecting change:

  • Top-Down Change Strategies
    The most common change approach is for leaders to decide what changes need to be made and to communicate them to the rest of the organization.  If change did not need to go through people or culture to get successfully executed, this change approach would be the most effective and efficient.

    In our experience, however, while the top-down approach starts out fast and feels good for the leadership team, it is not easy for a few people to truly convince a lot of people to change.  It often results in frustrated leaders, disenchanted employees, and sub-optimized change results because it does not consult with or involve the people required to carry out the desired changes from the very beginning.

    The most common warning sign of this ineffective change approach is that vast amounts of time and energy are devoted to communicating and selling change rather than designing, implementing, and discussing change with frontline managers and employees.

    This change approach is best suited for times of high urgency where the burning platform is literally burning, the required change is unarguable, and everyone agrees that there is truly not time to involve people.

  • Bottom-Up Change Strategies
    The second most common approach for change is for leaders to let frontline managers and employees decide what and how changes need to be made.  While we applaud the intentions behind this approach to manage change and have seen it effectively solve pressing and isolated problems, it often creates independent and siloed workstreams that do not solve more important systemic issues.

    The good news is that employee commitment is much higher with this approach.  The bad news is that the outcomes and investments are not always aligned with overall and lateral strategic priorities.

    This change approach is best suited to tackle short-term and isolated issues.

  • Cross-Functional Change Strategies
    Another common approach for change is to identify a cross-functional group of influential change champions to drive the desired changes throughout the organization.  Done right, this approach has many benefits.  It involves experts and key stakeholders; it creates commitment and visibility; and it is typically aligned with key strategies.

    While more effective than the top-down and bottom-up approaches, the problem with cross-functional change task forces is that they can still end up leaving out too many of the people responsible for or affected by the changes.

    This change approach is best suited for change initiatives where deep and meaningful involvement in the design, planning, and execution of the desired changes is not feasible.

What’s Needed for Effective Organizational Change
Other than piloting and testing changes before they are fully rolled out, what should companies do to have better success with change?  In our opinion, leaders need to adopt a new way of approaching change that actively and meaningfully involves ALL the key people who are interested in and affected by the desired changes.  Otherwise leaders are unable to take advantage of their employees’ unique perspectives, good ideas, creativity, and on-the-job experience.

We call this approach open-source change management.

Open-Source Change Management
It’s time to try a new model for effecting change, a more open-source approach that provides a way for leaders to actively involve and engage all key stakeholders in change design, planning, and implementation efforts.  The foundation of this approach pushes entire organizations to collectively and clearly craft successful change.

Done right, open-source change literally changes the way companies manage change by purposefully closing the inherent gaps between leaders and frontline workers, between different functions and departments, and between different perspectives and agendas.

The Benefits of Open-Source Change Management
By involving and empowering all employees in change from the onset, you will find that the quality of people’s commitment, effort, adoption, engagement, and cross-functional mindset increases dramatically.   Employees and frontline managers feel heard and valued.  Leaders, by acting on employee ideas, create a shared sense of purpose.

The end result?  More effective change and greater levels of employee engagement.

The Bottom Line
If you want to create lasting, fast-moving, and impactful company-wide change, consider bringing the entire organization together to truly mobilize change.  This approach allows you to create the elusive critical mass of people required to understand, believe in, commit to, and fully get from where you are to where you want to be.  While it may seem like a big investment upfront, it should save you time, frustration, and money in the long run.

To learn more about how to better involve employees during organizational change, download 5 Science-Backed Lenses of Change Leadership

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