As companies around the world look to become more agile and shorten development cycles, it has become essential for organisations to effectively prepare and condition their employees to handle change. It’s easy for businesses to overlook organisational change management (OCM), but it is often the deciding factor between success and failure of change initiatives. To that end, it doesn’t matter how well aligned a project is to the business objectives, without employee buy-in, it’s more than likely to fail. In fact, a 2015 McKinsey study found that 70 percent of change management efforts fail, with the primary causes being named as internal resistance and lack of management support.
With this in mind, in many cases, the long-term success of any organisation is based on its OCM effectiveness. Encouragingly, the potential upside is often huge with industry leadership up for grabs. So, what would be my advice?
Who are you? What are you trying to become?
Before engaging in any planning process, you need to understand the company identity and your vision of what you are trying to become in the future. A key human motivator is having a purpose and every individual in the organisation should have a clear understanding of their role and their contribution to the achievement of that future vision. By orientating your employees around a common purpose and providing clarity of action, you eliminate the doubt and friction hampering current change initiatives and you provide an idea every employee can lean on for support. From this point, every decision the organisation makes should link back directly to this identity and vision.
What makes an effective vision? Research finds that those leaders who use image-based rhetoric in their visions are much more likely to create this sense of common purpose. An effective vision should stimulate the same image of the future in your imagination as it does in your colleague’s imagination next to you. This clarity and simplicity ultimately eradicates the doubts and disagreements that cause friction in the first place.
A common problem with company visions today is the tendency to use abstract, idyllic language that makes it highly subjective. Many see this as an effective solution because that tailors the vision to each individual – like with art, even though two people are looking at the same colours on a canvas, they may see different things. However, you want your vision to be a call to action and to galvanise your employee base around a common objective, not to divide them. By way of an example, compare the two company visions:
Amazon: “To be the Earth’s most customer-centric company in the world”
Alternative: “To be a company that inspires and strives for greatness”
Amazon’s vision explicitly defines a vision of the company’s future. Every employee knows that a change initiative addressing this goal is taking a step closer to the company they want to be in the future – every employee is united around a common purpose.
In the alternative case, my definition of “greatness” is not necessarily going to be the same as that of my colleague, it’s divisive. The result – disagreement on which change initiatives to pursue, creating doubt and friction.
In summary, an effective vision gives clear direction for future planning and decision-making, serving as the bedrock for effective OCM. This taps every employee almost telepathically into the achievement of the same future and with it you have 100% engagement.
Talk – Engage on an individual level
A crucial differentiator between those that succeed and those that fail is their ability to engage their employees. To be successful, you need to get every employee bought into that vision that I have spoken about. At a very human level, change triggers our threat response, or our fight or flight instinct as most people know it. Neither of these responses are constructive because fight manifests itself as active resistance, while flight manifests itself as passive avoidance. Successful OCM is all about converting that threat into opportunity.
Due to the threat change presents, resistance is inevitable. Resistance and doubts often occur either due to a lack of understanding or due to a feeling of a lack of purpose. For example, an employee is going to resist a new technology if they are worried it’s going to replace them, removing their purpose. They are also going to resist by neglecting to commit time and effort to learn how to use it if they don’t fully understand the benefits of that investment. They would rather stick to their their old ways which is a lot more comfortable. The common denominator here is a lack of communication. How would it differ if you clearly communicated to your employees that they are not going to be replaced but in fact upskilled because they waste less time on manual tasks? Better yet, what if it is articulated to them how using this new technology is going to save them 2 hours a week because the new tool is more efficient? It’s not going to take a lot to get their buy-in.
This shows how it is essential to keep channels of communication open to ensure that each employee is fully aware of their contribution to the common purpose and how every change adapts their contribution, rather than eliminating it.
Quantify Progress to Eliminate Doubt & Stay on Track
Lastly, you have a clear vision of the company you are working towards and you know that from now on, every action should tie to the achievement of that goal, but it’s important that you track your progress. From both a team and an individual perspective, producing evidence of the progress your actions today are making towards that future, is essential for inspiring confidence in the employee base to quantify the specific role they are playing in the future success of the organisation. This explicitly links each individual’s purpose to the common purpose of the organisation.
Due to the potential threat change causes an individual to feel, they will rely on metrics to take the emotion out of their doubts to ensure that you keep the momentum of change moving forwards. They are also essential for keeping the team within certain boundaries to make sure that they don’t fall off course along the way.
Most important of all, with each passing day, new information comes to light, new challenges throw us off course, and new opportunities present themselves. Metrics help you contextualise these in a way that ensures you remain agile and proactive rather than reactive in the achievement of the original vision you set out. This flexibility is essential if you are to achieve lasting change.
I hope this article serves as a prompt to ask yourself the questions: How robust is our vision? How engaged are our employees to this vision on an individual level? Can we explicitly evidence the progress we are making?
If you need any help answering these questions and how you can better serve your most important customers, your employees, please reach out to us at Crossfuze. We have a strong team of Advisory Experts that can help shape your digital transformation vision using ServiceNow so that you achieve the change, today and tomorrow, that directly complements your company’s vision.