We are currently living through the largest social and economic disruption any of us has ever seen. COVID-19 has introduced new challenges to individuals, teams, companies and nations – and it can easily all feel out of our control.
And yet, as many others have recently pointed out, we also have an unprecedented opportunity in front of us. Traditional change management didn’t work before the crisis we now have the platform we need to try new ways of managing change. And perhaps most critically, figuring out how to engage our employees in the process.
I used to joke with clients that we should really stop using the word ‘change’ ̶ that we should instead consider words like ‘work’ or even ‘life’. Before coronavirus, we were already talking about a VUCA world – characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Remember that? We didn’t know what VUCA really was back then did we!? Now we are learning, hourly. And it is tough.
Back then, change management failed more than it succeeded. Reliable data show that two thirds of change initiatives failed to achieve their intended objectives. And now we find ourselves in the midst of change we didn’t plan, without defined goals and objectives – beyond just staying in business for many of us.
What we know about unsuccessful change management is that it tends to be mostly driven by top executives who make the decisions and then tell employees what to do. It is often focused on the short term and all about protecting the status quo. When companies feel out of control, this is almost the instinctive response.
However, now more than ever, successful change management should be characterised by
- actively involving employees
- a long-term view, and
- reimagining the possible with open minds.
Active involvement of your employees
Chances are your company is looking for ways to save money while still delivering value to your customers. Are you asking your employees what they think or what suggestions they have about how you could save money, improve your supply chain, or create new partnerships?
Companies who are good at change get the answers to these questions and make the ideas transparent – share submitted ideas, maybe have employees vote on the best ones, and then have a team make final decisions on the ones that will be implemented. You could even give awards for the most creative idea or the most fun idea, to encourage participation.
Make sure that your people know that all ideas were vetted and share the reasons why some were not implemented. Help employees understand that you have heard them but give the reasons for selecting the final ideas so they know that you value their contributions and creativity.
And when you launch a co-created solution, give employees credit and recognition. Thank them publicly for their great ideas (even the ones you don’t implement). And flag the solutions so that everyone can see and feel that contributions from every level are being heard.
Don’t forget the development angle or the customer benefits!
Involving your team in solving real business challenges will also develop new skills. Ensure your team understands that getting involved in strategy design and execution right now will give them experiences they may never be able to get in quite the same way again!
But also – now more than ever – your sellers have the opportunity to help their customers’ business. This is the heart of the Challenger approach – finding new ways to help customers see their business differently and drive outcomes they care about. Sellers should definitely work on their Challenger messages, ideally with colleagues, so that they can coach each other and brainstorm creative ideas that lead back to your solutions.
Long term vs short term
It can be tempting in this environment to make short-term or panic-driven decisions. Resist this urge. It can have long-lasting negative impact that you will never be able to predict. Companies who are transparent with employees about the challenges they are facing end up with better long-term strategies.
When employees feel co-ownership for change, they work harder for you, they drive innovation, and they feel invested in the organisation’s success. And even if you end up taking tough cost-cutting decisions, employees will often have more creative ideas about how to get to the required savings. Their unique perspectives may even help you find process and product efficiencies that you never knew were there.
Encouraging this kind of approach results in longer-term viability for your company, but also better solutions for your customers. You may even discover improvements to your own ways of working that just weren’t coming to light when you were ‘doing things the way you’ve always done them.’
Reimagine the possible with an open mind
Neuroscience experts would tell you that in this environment, most employees are experiencing a high level of neurological ‘threat’ which makes it hard to think long-term or creatively. And it is important to address that by putting in place buffers to help your teams calm down. One great tactic is to get with your team and figure out what you can control (perhaps the ideas they have come up with!), fiercely prioritise those things, and set goals to work towards together.
Investing in engagement now means being authentic and transparent about not having all the answers and needing to work together to get to the right next steps. Be humble and open minded about what you hear. Some employee suggestions may at first sound very foreign to you… but that is exactly why you need them. If this crisis is showing us anything, it is that we will need to do things differently to be successful. And more heads are better than few.
In a world that can feel so out of control, it is important to engage your employees so that change is something they are doing, not something that is being done to them. The results will pay off for years to come.
Want to hear more? Access the On-Demand webinar Engaging Your Teams to Innovate Through (Unplanned) Change.