Want Change to Stick?
Plan for the People Impact
Change is the new normal. Companies are focused on evolving how they deliver value before their competitors have a chance to disrupt their business. To activate strategy and drive results, organizations need people to think, act, and work differently—and they need it done fast to keep pace with ongoing transformation.
All this change impacts your employees. They may feel overwhelmed, burned out, or fatigued. They’re doing their best to meet expectations, but something is getting in their way. Maybe they don’t understand the vision. Maybe there isn’t clarity around what’s expected of them or how to do it. Without intending to be malicious or difficult, employees are struggling to accept and embody the organization’s new normal.
Employees need your help to make change stick. They’re being asked to be more resilient with change: to lean into a new way of working with interest and inquiry. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Before asking them to make another change, do you fully understand all the factors at play that are impacting employees and how they’re also impacting the organization?
- Do they have access to required resources?
- Are they supported in their role?
- Do they understand the company’s vision or end goal?
- Do they believe in it? Do their bosses buy into it?
- Are they motivated to get there?
- Are systems or platforms in place for continuous learning?
- Is anyone using these resources?
Depending on where your organization is at, those might be hard questions to ask. But every business needs to understand how it can better support employees to activate strategy. Otherwise, attempts to change the organization probably won’t stick.
Organizations are made up of connected and interdependent systems. Change in one area of the business impacts another area, and in ways that may surprise you. To make change stick in your organization, consider the following common “problem areas” that may be causing employee fatigue:
Employees need to understand the company’s vision—even better when they can frame it in their own words and share that purpose with others in the organization. Without this shared purpose, it’s hard to rally people around a unified, relatable idea.
Before you can spread the word and ask for buy-in, make sure you’re communicating an authentic vision statement or employee value proposition that is clear, compelling, and actionable for your people. It should inspire and energize your people around key actions, decisions, and priorities. If it lacks clarity, your people may resort to doing what’s in their best interest.
Once everyone is aware of where they’re going, you can reinforce the vision with key narratives and communications, engaging platforms and experiences, and learning opportunities. When your organization has a clear and compelling vision that can be communicated, shared, and strengthened through a variety of a channels, it becomes a powerful lever that helps employees feel more resilient and capable—and ultimately make change stick.
An executive sponsor is a senior leader who leads by example in their words, actions, behaviors, and attitudes. Their authentic support instills a sense of legitimacy and accountability among employees, strengthening your ability to gain buy-in and drive engagement.
For example, does your company want to drive employee safety? Then you’ll need a visible, active executive sponsor who requires compliance training, reinforces safety messages in company meetings, and encourages other leaders to demonstrate safety behaviors and attitudes. They also need to be authentic. A sponsor who preaches the importance of safety but is seen texting while driving through the company parking lot isn’t going to be very effective.
When executive sponsors lead by example, they model what the desired culture looks like and invite employees to shift their own behaviors.
No one wants to feel like change is being done to them. Whether it’s real or perceived, this lack of control can cause extreme discomfort for people. If we don’t plan to support them through their discomfort, they can quickly become resistant to what’s being asked of them.
We engage employees when we give them a role to play in how the company is going to move forward into the new normal. While it’s not always possible to engage every person in every change, you still need to find ways to gather feedback and concerns about what’s to come. The key to engaging employees is to be clear, honest, and open about which aspects are open for discussion and which ones are necessary for the organization. Ask questions. Actively listen to their responses.
Two-way communication channels can bubble up important questions and feedback. There are other types of resources you can use to help employees own their part to play. We’ve seen how leveraging a network of “change champions” or super-engaged employees not only inspires teams across departments and regions to engage—it also leads to better insights and shared practices for the new normal of work.
Metrics are hard to get right, because measurement alone doesn’t cause improvement. When we gather metrics, we need clear expectations for the desired outcomes. We also need incentives—or consequences—for when the actual results don’t align with our expectations. When metrics are paired with expectations and follow-up actions, we’re better able to motivate people to do what they have to do and remain resilient during change.
Sometimes we wind up measuring the wrong things, which in turn drives the wrong behaviors. If you want to drive employee safety, it may not be a good idea to “incentivize” employees to report safety incidents each month. What’s to stop them from creating unsafe situations so that they have something to report and be rewarded for? (It happens.)
To measure the right things, you’ll need to clearly define what behaviors or attitudes you want to drive; how you will measure those behaviors in action; who will own that process; and how you will support employees as they change their behaviors and attitudes.
Rewards and recognition
When leaders talk about using rewards and recognition to sustain behavior, they usually reference their standard performance management processes—annual goal setting, bonus structures, and so forth.
There’s value in using traditional performance management tools, but leaders can also leverage other methods to more fully influence behavioral change. Gamification experiences—a social system of rewards and recognition built on community platforms and competitive challenges—can incentivize employees to make certain choices or complete desired actions.
I’m not saying you need all the bells and whistles to effectively reward and recognize employees. Sometimes all it takes is pausing to recognize someone for a job well done. However, you’ll need something more robust to keep desired behaviors top of mind on a broad scale across teams or locations. Leaderboards, progress dashboards, and challenge-based experiences drive employees to grow new skills and reflect on their progress. (Plus a little friendly competition never hurts.)
Making change stick
Leaders are investing considerable time and money to evolve their organizations. Yet, investment alone doesn’t set your business up for success. It also takes understanding all the factors that impact an employee’s ability to be resilient and embrace change for the long term.
When we recognize that people—employees, customers, and other stakeholders—are affected by this constant evolution, we’re able to provide them with the right support to make change stick. This ultimately empowers your people to activate your strategy and drive results.