3 Keys to Helping Your Employees Succeed With Change

“Three Keys to Helping Your Employees Succeed with Change” was originally published by The American Management Association (AMA) Playbook in September 2018.

By their very nature, organizations depend on teamwork. As in any team, every player counts—and this is something that must be kept top of mind in organization design. To achieve a desired outcome, it’s essential that every employee understands the role they play in the organization’s strategic plan. If this understanding is not present, the strategy will likely not live up to its potential.

A critical element of organization design is therefore to help employees understand their roles, and to assist them in performing these roles in alignment with the company strategy. To do this, leaders should plan to provide three key things to their teams:

  1. Explain the “Why” – Most people naturally resist change, and there are proven neurophysiological reasons for this phenomenon. Knowing the reasons behind a change can help employees approach a change situation in a more logical manner, and more easily override the reflex to resist. Ideally, every employee should be able to articulate why they are being asked to do what they are doing, and why it is important.
  2. Clarify Scope – Uncertainty and confusion can lower morale, create delays, and interfere with productivity and profitability. Taking the time to establish exactly which systems, structures, processes, and policies will and will not be affected by the change, and how broadly the change will be implemented across the organization and over time, will help immensely in making sure the strategy gets executed smoothly and cleanly.
  3. Give Them Appropriate Tools – New strategies and procedures usually require different tools; asking employees to try to adapt old tools to new work will almost always result in their backsliding into old behaviors. In addition to providing them with any tools appropriate for the work itself, it is helpful to give them tools to navigate the change process.

A Case Study in Successful Change

One company we worked with a few years back on a product development process upgrade did an exemplary job in fulfilling these three principles. The company’s ultimate goal was to create and deploy a process for improved transparency and faster speed to market. In addition to helping them with organization design, we also assisted in helping the company and their employees stay in alignment with strategy during the roll-out period of the new design.

This company utilized a wide variety of methods in all three of these areas to help their employees understand the changes that were being made and handle them successfully.

Explaining Why: Some of the techniques used to help their employees understand the “why” behind the changes being made included:

  • Allowing enough time for employees to assimilate the change
  • Keeping employees consistently and regularly updated about the change
  • Offering them opportunities to ask questions on a regular basis

Opportunities for direct interaction and questions took various forms, including both formal and informal sessions. However, they were all designed to be time efficient to avoid information overload and allow maximum time for employees to ask questions and have their concerns addressed.

Clarifying Scope: To clearly define the scope of the change, the company took the time early on to determine which processes would or would not be affected. One example of how they did this was to specifically designate an existing resourcing and prioritization process as out of scope, even though it was related to and intersected with the product development process that was being changed. In addition, rather than changing the company’s management system, the leadership team clarified how the new process would relate to, align with, and support the existing management system.

Providing Tools: Employees were given multiple tools to help them understand and adjust to their new roles and processes. These included documents such as accountability checklists, training guides, process charts, etc. In addition, they received formal training on all aspects of the change, including processes, roles and responsibilities, procedures and policies, and the strategy behind it all.

All this detailed preparation paid off to result in one of the most successful strategic implementations we have ever observed. Because every employee thoroughly understood the reasoning behind all they were being asked to do, and was given the time and resources they needed to absorb it and properly execute their roles, they took ownership of the new process and it rolled out without a hitch.

Investing in Change

Preparations of this kind take time and effort. But leaders who take a little extra time to plan how they will explain to employees the “why” behind the changes they want to make, define the scope of the changes they are planning, and provide the tools needed for success, will achieve greater buy-in and ultimately experience a much smoother transition.


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