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How to Help Employees Through Organizational Changes

There’s an old saying that employees don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.

According to the data, there might be something to that. The DDI Frontline Leader project finds that 57% of surveyed employees left a job because of the manager. Another 32% of employees considered leaving because of the manager but decided to stay. And 14% of employees left multiple jobs because they couldn’t stand the boss.

Employers can’t wish away these numbers. Especially not now, with more than half of all workers saying they want to move on.

Employees are more likely to get restless, and to actually act on that restlessness, amid changes in the workplace. Unfortunately, the current wave of voluntary quits is happening against a backdrop of seismic change at many organizations. Employers are retooling to face the challenges of tomorrow, and employees are pushing back.

Employers shouldn’t assume that pushback is down to employees being scared of or resistant to change. Often, it’s the result of poorly executed change management processes that leave employees — those expected to see the change through — without the necessary support or guidance. And that increases the risk that employees will leave when employers can least afford it.

As an employer, you have the ability to break this cycle. Follow these guidelines to help employees through organizational changes and raise the chances they’ll still be around on the other side.

Put an Effective Change Management Process in Place

An effective change management process begins with a comprehensive and scalable change management plan. The ingredients of this plan include but aren’t limited to:

  • Defining the problem that prompted the change initiative
  • Defining the scope of the planned change
  • Identifying the key stakeholders who will play a role in the change process’s success or failure
  • How to obtain buy-in from those stakeholders and others who may be affected by the change
  • A step-by-step plan to execute the change

Some of these ingredients overlap with the later change management steps described below. At this early juncture, it’s most important to have a general framework for the process. You can fill in the details later.

Clearly Communicate the “Why” Behind the Change

A change process is more efficient and has a higher probability of success when its key stakeholders are fully bought in. 

This requires change process leaders — like you — to clearly communicate the reasons for the change. This communication needs to happen at a high level (covering all stakeholders) and at the individual level (showing each stakeholder how the change affects them and why you need their buy-in).

As we’ll see, this isn’t a one-time thing. Effective change management requires ongoing and often personalized communication.

Define Your Metrics for Success

How will you know that your change process is successful? You need to be able to answer this question cold before you begin.

Your metrics depend on your process’s goals. If your endgame is an increase in revenue for a particular department or vertical, you’ll want to measure progress toward that increase. If your goal is to enter a new line of business, you’ll need to measure market share as the process unfolds.

Assign Clear Roles to Every Change Process Participant and Implement an Accountability System

Your change management metrics are only as useful as your accountability system. Assign clear roles to every change process participant, taking care that they don’t overlap significantly with any others. Give each roleplayer responsibility or “ownership” for at least one metric related to the change. And devise a fair but objective system for measuring performance within this framework.

Distribute Change Management Guidelines and Directives Through a Centralized Channel

 

Set up a centralized channel to distribute change management guidelines and communications, such as a shared folder or (more likely for complex processes) a project within your company’s project management system. If it’s capable of handling progress management, as any well-rounded project management solution should be, use this channel to track progress and performance as well.

Take Proactive Steps to Combat Burnout and Fatigue

Every change management process has deadlines. Most periodically tunnel into “crunch time,” where every stakeholder is expected to work all-out to meet shared goals or hit milestones.

Outside these periods, be respectful of stakeholders’ work-life balance. Take proactive steps to combat burnout and fatigue, like allowing at least one day off from the project each week (if not an actual day off from work). Maintain an open-door policy both with your direct reports and for more junior stakeholders. And be mindful of performance metrics that show early signs of burnout.

Follow Through on Your Change Initiatives (Or Clearly Communicate Why You’re Changing Course)

“Finish what you started” is not always great advice. Sometimes, ideas that seem solid at first turn out to be dead ends or simply not worth pursuing. When that happens in the context of a larger organizational change, it’s your responsibility to clearly communicate the reasons behind the change in course.

And when great-seeming ideas live up to their potential, it’s your responsibility to ensure stakeholders follow through on them. That means coaching — and holding accountable — stakeholders when they don’t pull their weight.

Help Your Employees Help Your Enterprise Thrive

Great leaders help their employees when the going gets tough. And while it might not seem so from the perspective of the boardroom, change processes can be really tough for regular employees.

Following this blueprint can help. Managers who want their next organizational change to be the smoothest yet can:

  • Put an effective change management process in place
  • Clearly communicate the reason for the change
  • Define success objectively and assign clear roles for everyone involved
  • Take proactive steps to combat employee burnout
  • Keep communicating at every step of the change process, especially if and when you have to change course
  • Check in regularly with those responsible for executing the change

As a leader, you might have a more impressive title and a higher salary than the frontliners working to execute your directives. But you know the success of those directives depends on helping the frontliners help your enterprise. Here’s to getting it done. 

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