3 things to do when redesigning how you work
“Why now?”. “There’s too much going on”. “No one asked us”. There would be a lot of pennies in the jar for every time these responses to workplace change were heard.
The fact is life, and without doubt the workplace, is full of constant shifting and changing. Indeed, change is essential for us to grow and frankly survive. But that doesn’t make the proposition of change more attractive especially when experience tells us differently. 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.
We’ve just been through one of the biggest workplace change programmes in history. It was called COVID. And now we’re about to change again – creating balance between the world of digital remote work and collaborative face-to-face experiences. Whether it be small scale change like rolling out an updated tool or something more grandiose like a shift in culture that will touch all employees, these steps can help communicators face change with optimism not dread:
1. Map out the employee experience, before you communicate changes
Timing can be everything, especially when communicating how something is going to change. Deadlines and timescales determining change are often unavoidable but understanding how people are likely to receive and interpret change information can be planned. When it comes to happy employees it should be old news that the design of your employee experience is as important as, if not more important, than the experience you design for your customers.
By mapping the employee experience, you can:
- Get a clear picture of what is going on for various employee groups at any given time – live life in their shoes before creating any communications. Where are the opportunities and the red flags?
- Help people connect the dots. Don’t just tell people what’s changing but how it connects to what else is going on for them in the workplace
- Give people the best opportunity to be part of the change (if appropriate) by knowing the right time for them to give you that head space
- Give stakeholders an informed view on how to make their change a successful one as opposed to going rogue
- Give leaders and managers the guidance and tools at the right time to help them do their job.
2. Work out where you are headed, and why
It’s frightening, if you don’t know where you are headed or why. It’s a question we always ask clients – why are you doing this? You’d be surprised how often the question is met with a shocked look as it dawns on them that people have thought about what they need to do, but not WHY it needs to be done.
- Use Simon Sinek’s ‘Why, How, What’ Golden Circle to get focused on the higher purpose for why your change is happening
- Link change to real employee concerns or experiences to connect them to the vision
- Use consistent, realistic yet aspiring language that all leaders can get behind because they’re part of it. Get the real story out there before others emerge and create alignment not siloes
- Go to your people managers first – build their confidence because otherwise they will blame the higher powers. Be transparent with them about the reasons for change
- Perhaps mostly important, do not play down the effects of change. Acknowledge it and work with it. People might be worried what they’re about to lose as part of any change; how is it going to look and feel different? There will be many questions. And that’s OK.
3. Make it ‘done with’ not ‘done to’
CIPD’s June 2022 Good Work Index makes it clear that employees can find their manager poor at keeping them informed about management decisions. Too often, employees feel like they are the last to know. The more you trust your people to have transparent conversations about the unanswered questions that the business faces, the better. Employees don’t necessarily want to know that you have ALL the answers, but they will want to know that you have all the questions.
- Allow managers the opportunity to almost test-run the changes; let them get a true sense of what they are asking their teams to do. As we have written before, be transparent about what you’re doing. Help them to process and own in it their own way
- Use your change agents to reduce focus on instructional cascade communications and turning to more bottom-up and staff-generated content. This helps it feel far more relatable
- But be realistic and transparent about what is and isn’t up for discussion. Don’t waste people’s time asking for their opinion if there is not the intention; you won’t see them for dust next time you really need their input.
There you have it. Three simple albeit powerful steps we can take as communicators: put yourself in the shoes of your audience, answer the question “why are we doing this?’, and be as transparent with people as you can.