In 2022, according to Statista, there were 3.32 billion people employed worldwide. And among those 3.32 billion, not a single person is the same. Everyone’s lives have been shaped by a number of influences – everything from childhood experiences to genetics. And these differences impact how people show up, behave, and respond to change at work.
But often, not enough attention is given to these differences. Especially when it comes to change management initiatives, change is usually managed by organizational factors, such as employee location or department. And while these factors do matter, they don’t get to the heart of what makes change stick.
Without understanding and adapting to the unique and personal differences of the people within an organization, there is a risk that change will be too slow, adopted in silos, or worse…not adopted at all.
But how can you possibly consider all the unique and personal differences of the people within your organization?
Just like the customer experience function of a business that uses personas to create more personalized, relevant, and engaging solutions for consumers, organizations can also use personas for their change management approach. Although of course, you won’t be speaking to all your employees (like a CX department won’t speak to all their customers), the goal with using this tool is to be user-centric, gather enough data across a diverse set of people, and design an approach that groups people by common motivators, challenges, and preferences.
To illustrate how to do this, we’ve outlined a recent example of when Daggerwing used personas to create a people-centric approach to lead one of our clients through change.
The Context: A global, highly matrixed organization was relentlessly pursuing digital transformation to become an even more agile and customer-focused industry leader. To do this, their digital leadership team partnered with Daggerwing to clearly define the purpose, showcase how they add value to the rest of the organization, and refresh their culture–changing expectations for how employees work together and deliver results.
Due to fierce competition, rapidly evolving customer needs, and disruptive innovations impacting their business, this change had to happen quickly. To do change right the first time and to deliver maximum impact for them, we put their people at the center of our change approach.
To do this, we conducted focus groups and interviews with leaders and employees to better understand the different experiences they were facing. We dug in and asked them meaningful and open-end questions that led to them telling us stories, which helped to unpack current ways of working and to identify employee needs. By listening with empathy, we were able to uncover the challenges they were facing, how they could be better supported, and root causes of the barriers to change.
The insights we gathered were then used to develop four personas that represented key stakeholder groups – again, a technique that may not get to all the unique differences of your people but will help you understand their common differences.
1. Saj, the ‘Comfortable Veteran’
Saj has been at the company for a long time (10+ years) and has worked her way up. She is satisfied with her work environment, likes her colleagues, has a routine, and knows the ins and outs of the business (e.g., the unofficial processes and the right people to go to for what). Saj is comfortable with the status quo and doesn’t believe the organization needs changing. And although she is aware that things can be done better, she’s able to navigate the current system effectively and because of that, doesn’t have any desire to influence the organization or those around her to change.
Saj is ‘Change Resistant’
- Common emotions Saj may face when thinking of change: Denial, frustration, cynicism
- Common motivators that drive Saj’s adoption of change: Personal accountability, driving results and moving up in the organization
- What to do: Encourage these employees to focus less on what was and more on what can be – properly articulate the case and urgency for change and how it will help to propel the organization into the future. Share the ‘what’s in it for me’ and provide direct, hands-on support. Since these employees may be skeptical of the change, ensure they feel their voice is heard by using live Q&A’s and discussion forums, for example.
2. Scott, the ‘Tenured Ambassador’
Scott has been at the company for some time (5+ years) and has worked his way up in the organization. Like Saj, Scott takes great pride in his work and the relationships he has with his team. He is deeply interested in his role and values the role culture plays in his work life. He’s energized by the idea of challenging how things are currently being done to improve overall company culture and he actively role models the behaviors that align with the desired change. Scott is a pacesetter and an idea-generator who takes pride in working at the organization and wants to do what he can to accomplish the organization’s vision for the future.
Scott is ‘Change Ready’
- Common emotions Andrew may face when thinking of change: Relief, enthusiasm, optimism
- Common motivators that drive Andrew’s adoption of change: Improving the status quo, cultivating relationships, owning the organization’s future
- What to do: Identify these employees early in the change journey so they can contribute to the strategy (share their ideas), validate the strategy (provide feedback) and play a role in bringing other employees along (relay messages, support others and act as ambassadors of change).
3. Andy, the ‘Fresh Addition’
Andy joined the company less than a year ago and they’ve been enjoying it so far – with the recurring “first day of school jitters” when they face new challenges or meet new colleagues. They are still learning about the organization’s people and processes, but Andy is eager to contribute, make an impact, and learn different ways of working. They tend to bring a fresh perspective on how work is done by leveraging their recent experience at a start-up, but often shy away from speaking up – they’re unsure how much agency or accountability they may have. Andy wants to be included in shaping the organization but is intimidated by the more tenured and senior people. To Andy, the culture is seemingly hierarchal and siloed.
Andy is ‘Change Neutral and Change Ready’
- Common emotions they may face when thinking of change: Confusion, trepidation, curiosity.
- Common motivators that drive their adoption of change: Learning, building relationships, and a sense of belonging
- What to do: Invite these employees into the conversation and give them an opportunity to share their ideas and experiences from outside of your organization. They can collaborate and partner with more tenured employees, and together they can advocate and action the change. Provide these employees with all the information they need and tools that can support them along the way.
4. Jennifer, the ‘Temporary Teammate’
As a long-term contractor who is working on one specific project, Jennifer is focused on the job at hand, but nothing more. She is task-oriented and focuses primarily on her day-to-day projects and only the people she directly works with – she is a bit unsure of the role she plays beyond achieving specific results. Although Jennifer is excellent at driving results for the business, she does not feel the need to go above and beyond what is required of her. She doesn’t feel much agency or accountability to contribute to the organization and doesn’t have a strong connection to the company culture – for example, she doesn’t attend the company town halls. Jennifer isn’t actively resistant to change, but ambivalent towards it and won’t have much stake in the change initiative. It does sometimes occur to her that she could get an extended contract offered to her and she wouldn’t be opposed to that. Inevitably, Jennifer rarely takes a moment to reflect on the bigger picture.
Jennifer is ‘Change Neutral’ and ‘Change Resistant’
- Common emotions they may face when thinking of change: Passive, uncertainty, indifference
- Common motivators that drive their adoption of change: Personal accountability, driving results, fulfilling their contract
- What to do: Use change-ready team members to help bring these employees from neutral to ready and provide the tools and communications to make this change easy and practical – without asking too much of them. Outline how these changes impact their role or if they’re not affected.
People in your organization are more than just their job title – and while categorizing employees by function or level can be helpful, understanding employee motivations, feelings towards change, and their outlook on culture is transformational. Again, although these personas didn’t capture all the unique differences of employees, these personas helped us build a case for a more practical yet tailored, people-centric approach to change.