Change leaders get it. They know that successful execution of big organizational transformations can’t work if the needs of their people—at every level—aren’t factored in.
Despite lessons learned from the past two years of accelerated change, companies may still be defaulting to pre-pandemic change strategies that don’t seek the people “buy-in” required for the change to stick.
A script change, in the earliest strategy planning stages, can vastly improve the chances that critical organizational changes—designed to grow and sustain your company—truly bear fruit and validate the time, effort, and investment you pour into these initiatives.
These strategies work in support of company reorganizations that may be the result of a merger and acquisition, large-scale tech change, or any initiative that impacts the day-to-day operations of your organization.
Done right, foundational people change approaches can fend off some of the fallout we saw over the past two years—realities that companies can no longer afford: employee burnout, change fatigue, role uncertainty, and the ability to attract and keep top talent.
Getting it right this time
When large-scale organizational change is rolled out strategically and with the employee experience front and center, the outcomes are measurable:
- New levels of workforce engagement, allegiance, and resilience
- A reduction in employee change fatigue
- A bolstering of behavioral, technical, or leadership skills
Through an independent firm, Propeller conducted a survey of 400 U.S.-based professionals across industries at the end of 2021; 44% had a C-suite title and 17% were in senior management roles. Of those respondents, 45% predicted their business functions will experience more organizational restructuring in 2022 and beyond.
These leaders identified that making investments in their people ranks much higher for 2022—with specific investments centered around learning and development (L&D) initiatives, career development, company culture, and evolving ways of working.
Strategize these people investments early in your process
As change leaders, you are fortifying your company’s ability to quickly adapt to any changes the market throws at you in the years to come. And there will be changes. That said, and with the goal of strengthening the change muscle in each of your employees, here are some strategies to make your people—and organization—more agile and resilient:
Operating model changes
Operating model changes continue at a fast pace as companies respond to M&As, organizational realignment, and tech transformation.
In our experience, the biggest misstep we see organizations make is jumping ahead to organizational design without a clearly defined roadmap. As an organization, you need to ask yourself: why are we transforming; what is the future state we want to achieve; and what capabilities are required to achieve that strategy? An operating model only works if people have the capabilities and are working together in the right structure.
An organizational design that does not support the right capabilities and strategy can lead to wasted time and money, an ineffective reorganization that does not move the organization forward, and resistance and change fatigue among employees.
Once you have a clear vision and strategic roadmap designed and most importantly—aligned to by leadership—then you can begin focusing on what needs to change within capabilities, structure, roles, processes, and ways of working. This vision will serve as your guide to the next steps in designing and achieving your desired future state.
New ways of working
The pandemic spurred rapid change, with many companies redefining their ways of working to quickly adapt to the new work environment. Now, we’re seeing new ways of working emerge as the result of new operating models, reorgs, and the establishment of hybrid team environments.
While you and your team may have previously agreed-upon ways of working, it may be time to revisit those agreements to respond to different work styles, improve hybrid and time-zone equity, and create an environment with opportunities for the entire team to succeed, further strengthening inclusion and engagement.
Successful new ways of working are co-created by the team. RACIs, a responsibility assignment matrix, and team contracting, are two useful tactics to use. They allow teammates to agree on ownership, timelines, role clarity, and other important ways of working. Then, to gain employee buy-in, formalize it in writing and ask your team to sign it.
Teams should take the time for frequent iterations on their defined ways of working. Check-ins and retrospectives allow teams to quickly adapt, becoming more agile. Overall, it improves communication, reduces confusion, and helps teams work through conflicts and decisions quicker, creating higher-performing teams.
Learning and development
Companies that set themselves apart in attracting, engaging, and retaining employees, invest in the whole person, not just the skills people need to perform well in their current role.
While technical skills (“hard skills” required for a person's current job) are important, many companies are expanding L&D offerings to include power skills, otherwise known as soft skills. Power skills include communication, collaboration, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, teamwork, creativity, time management, strategic thinking, conflict management, team building, and diversity and inclusion. Unlike hard skills, which can become obsolete with time or when you change roles, power skills can continually be improved and developed over time and are relevant across roles, companies, and personal lives.
Companies that want to take L&D to the next level, beyond providing the investment and opportunities, need to be clear on what they need from a capabilities perspective. This can be accomplished by analyzing what people know right now (current state) and what you want them to know (future state). To connect the two, organizations need to fill in the gap with the appropriate learning paths.
By providing a learning ecosystem backed by strategy, you enable your employees to own their learning journey in a way that is beneficial to their growth—and your organization.
Helping Employees Thrive in Change
Change is constant and the pace of change will only continue to accelerate. But if you invest in your people, with a thoughtful strategy that looks to the future, you will not only strengthen your employee’s resilience to change, but you will also help them thrive in change, enabling them to grow alongside your organization.
Riley Smith, Director, People & Change
Riley Smith has spent a lifetime honing his ability to analyze challenges from a systems perspective. A background in sustainability fueled his aptitude for identifying inputs and outputs, locating responsibility and leveraging points within a system, and being comfortable with the complexity of people-created systems. He’s a strong believer that life and business alike are more enjoyable — and can be easier — when tackled as part of a team. He holds a master’s degree in sustainability from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Utah.
Jenny Niec, Consultant, People & Change
Jenny Niec has spent her career sharing her enthusiasm for learning and supporting people through change. She enjoys leading change initiatives that move people and companies forward and creating learning programs that improve employee and customer engagement, performance, and business outcomes. She has worked in Learning & Development as a consultant and leader in small and large companies in a variety of industries. She holds a master’s degree in communication studies and a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and political science, both from Ball State University.