How do we make change stick?
It’s a question we hear all the time.
We’re seeing leaders invest more and more in doing change right – everything from shifting to the future of work, rethinking their Employee Value Proposition to attract and retain top talent, putting forward new strategic visions to win in the marketplace, and more. But all too often, executive and leadership teams aren’t seeing their well-thought-out plans turn into reality – causing some to shy away from critical change efforts when they are most needed. And with data indicating that 70% of all change initiatives fail (HBR), who can blame them?
But success is within reach. As we saw over the last year, organizations had to quickly pivot and adopt new strategies to survive. They needed to make digital transformations happen overnight, implement new ways of working and a new employee experience, and adjust to keep up with customer’s preferences. It’s stories like these that prove change isn’t destined to fail.
In fact, we know how to do change right the first time because we focus on the hardest part of change – people – to make it happen and make it stick.
To drive change and transformation, leaders need their own employees to overcome resistance and adopt new mindsets and behaviors. And that’s why we focus on deeply understanding the biases, thoughts, and perceptions that influence why people do and do not change.
So, the way to break the cycle of change failure, and finally do change right the first time, is as simple as following this proven 5-Step Checklist for engaging employees on any change initiative:
1: Make it clear
- Communicate a clear vision and compelling reason for the change and make sure employees really understand it.
- Be consistent – ensure your purpose, strategy, and culture align and that what all leaders say and do tells the same story.
- Be specific around what the desired employee behaviors look like (and don’t look like) so your people know what is expected of them.
2: Make it personal
- Make sure the vision for transformation isn’t just about the company, but also about the benefits and impact to individual employees so they can internalize the “so what?” at a personal level.
- Be overt in acknowledging and addressing sources of anxiety and concern about what the change means.
- Build psychological safety so people share what’s working and what’s not and are less fearful of failure.
- Ensure employees have a voice, feel ownership, and are empowered to make decisions and drive the change.
3: Make it easy
- Integrate new behaviors into existing organizational habits and create verbal and visual cues to reinforce them.
- Listen to and observe employees to find out if there are barriers to behavior change and take steps to remove them.
- Make sure the behavior changes you are asking employees to adopt are realistic – focus on a few critical shifts and build on them over time.
4: Make it motivating
- Inspire versus demand – use proof of concept or pilot examples to help employees believe in the benefits of change and want to be part of it.
- Demonstrate success and spotlight and reward those who are living it (recognition of excellence).
- Help your people managers to engage their team members via storytelling to show how the change will benefit the individual and the organization and customers.
5: Make it stick
- Set progress goals and then measure them to make sure change is still happening, even if people are focusing on other projects.
- Build the desired behavior change into all aspects of the employee lifecycle – from training to performance management and incentives.
- Make leaders accountable for modeling and reinforcing the desired behaviors – as well as spotting and correcting when people lapse back into old behaviors.
These 5-Steps represent a critical checklist for leaders – but need to be pulled through from strategy to execution of the plan that shifts employee actions. At Daggerwing, we make change stick by turning desired mindset and behavior changes into habits that become part of the day-to-day culture, not just a one-time initiative.
For leaders, the hardest part of change is people. Not surprisingly, failing to address people factors is one of the biggest reasons change initiatives fail. Putting people in the center with this 5-Step Checklist is at the core of doing change right the first time.