Article

When the only constant is change: 3 steps to doing it right the first time

Imagine the scenario: Leaders and their teams join a global virtual town hall, expecting to hear uplifting messages from the CEO about maintaining focus amidst continued uncertainty.

Instead, the CEO surprisingly unveils a multi-tiered strategy to address last year’s financial shortfalls – including a new organizational structure and a new approach to attract and retain customers. 

While the business rationale seems solid, employees are still trying to wrap their heads around the speed and intensity of last year’s changes. Everyone leaves the meeting feeling even more overwhelmed and unsure about what this all means for themselves, their teams, and their day-to-day work.

There’s no question that constantly adapting to change is the new reality for businesses. But on the people side, piling change on top of change creates fatigue and anxiety for employees – leading to change failure.

We’re here to tell you there is a way to make change feel less like an onslaught and more like a natural evolution. By tapping into why people do and don’t want to change – and by addressing the human factors that cause change to fail – you can do change right the first time.

Here are three tips to help you get started:

1. UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE DO AND DON’T CHANGE

Organizations don’t change, people do. But everyone is motivated to change for different reasons.

  • Some people are inspired to move TOWARD something. Maybe someone wants to see how their contributions ladder up to the bigger picture, or maybe someone wants to be broadly recognized for the impact they are making.
  • Other people are motivated to AVOID something. Psychology teaches us losses are twice as powerful as gains.

So, when it comes time to implement changes to org structures, operating models, or processes, leaders need to take time to figure out what will be individually motivating for employees. Remember, no matter the reason for wanting or not wanting to change, leaders must zone in on what employees are going through – and use insights to guide their strategy.

For example, in our work with a global food and beverage company, their newly appointed CEO wanted to change their operating model. With this news, there were some groups of employees who were fearful of their job security, while others were concerned about how their day-to-day would change, and specifically, how much added work might be on their plates. By uncovering these insights into how employees were actually feeling, we were able to ease and address concerns – all while maintaining productivity.

2. START PRIORITIZING WHAT’S IMPORTANT VS. URGENT  

Last year, as businesses were forced to react to all the impacts of the pandemic, we all understood that leaders were constantly prioritizing urgent versus important decisions. For many organizations, it was necessary to quickly adapt to new ways of working and new business models practically overnight – and it was critical for growth and performance. But by only focusing on urgent needs, it took attention away from making forward progress, and ultimately led to extreme burnout and exhaustion. This year, leaders need to prioritize and put important initiatives back on the table. We’re encouraging everyone to carve out time to first think about what’s strategically necessary, and then plan for time to be spent on those initiatives. This will push leaders and employees to really focus on what matters, while also propelling their companies forward.

To help a client who was struggling with this push and pull, we created a prioritization framework that allowed them to align on what was important, and what was time-sensitive. We asked questions like: “Is what you’re working on helping to build customer growth?” “How are you contributing to the CEO’s future vision and strategy?” and “What types of skills are you building to lead in this new world of work?” By helping them look through a prioritization lens, we were able to help them spend less time on activities that didn’t have a direct impact on revenue growth.

3. ROLE MODEL AND REWARD THE RIGHT BEHAVIORS

To achieve recovery and return to growth, people leaders need to identify and align on the desired behaviors of their employees. Even in this virtual world, it’s still important for leaders to get together for “offsites” where they dedicate time to collectively articulate what success looks like, and both the leader and employee behaviors needed to get there. It’s only when leaders have a clear understanding of what good looks like – and role model these behaviors themselves – that employees will get on board.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once expectations are clearly communicated, the desired behaviors need to be reinforced through recognition. For a consumer goods client of ours, we created a two-tier program:

  • First, we equipped leaders to celebrate employees publicly by telling stories of how they were applying the behaviors to different situations. When peers saw examples of situations they could relate to, the company saw an uptick in the behaviors being perpetuated.
  • Secondly, we incorporated the behaviors into people’s performance goals – ensuring they were being held accountable in a measurable way. We often say, “what gets measured gets done,” so by adding this key performance indicator to the review process, leaders and employees quickly saw what they needed to do if they wanted salary increases and promotions.

So, when the next major change is announced, remember that by incorporating and embedding these principles into the day-to-day processes of your organization, you will be able to successfully navigate change – avoiding fatigue, burnout, and failure.

Adina is a Principal at Daggerwing Group. She has worked with both small and midsized businesses as well as large global organizations across a variety of industries, such as consumer goods, healthcare & pharmaceutical, food & beverage, and transportation & logistics. Adina partners with her clients on organization and functional transformations, and specifically helps to articulate roles and responsibilities, define core processes and ways of working within and across teams/departments and establish a governance structure that supports the new organization. She advises on the strategic communications needed to not only keep leaders and employees informed along the way, but also to engage and involve them in the journey. She also happens to know all the lyrics to Hamilton by listening to it on repeat during training runs for her 12 full and half marathons.