Companies spend millions of dollars each year in order to make change initiatives a success. Yet the results are frequently dismal–changes fail to achieve their objectives, and leaders are left wondering what went wrong. Managers blame change-phobic employees, and employees say leaders didn’t manage the change effectively.
But a recent survey by New York-based OnPoint Consulting shows that when it comes to getting employees’ support for change, effort is not the problem–it’s keeping their support and commitment at high levels.
“Most managers know they have to clarify the purpose of the change, develop a transition plan and get employees committed to the change effort right up front,” says Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting and co-author of Flexible Leadership: Creating Value by Balancing Multiple Challenges and Choices. “And many of them appear to do a pretty good job at first. But in the first month after the big kickoff employee commitment and support for the change begins to trail off.”
OnPoint’s research found that top-performing companies detect this dip and quickly take action to get back on track. Less successful companies take longer to reverse the trend–and even if they are able to do so, many times their recovery does not stick.
Based on OnPoint’s research, Lepsinger provides guidelines for what leaders can do to avoid the commitment dip and implement successful change at your company:
1. Be forthright
Many leaders are hesitant to discuss a change with employees. Sometimes it’s a misguided attempt to “protect” them. Sometimes it’s because they feel they won’t be able to answer all the questions. In either case, not discussing a change with employees is a mistake. In fact, 64% of survey respondents said that open and honest communication from leaders, even when they don’t have all the answers, would make change easier.
2. Model behaviour
Be sure your leaders do not revert to “old” behaviours. If employees perceive that there are two sets of rules and behaviors–one for them and one for senior leaders—the change will lose credibility and be seen as less important. “It is not enough to just say the right thing or even enthusiastically communicate the benefits and the business case for the change,” says Lepsinger. “Employees want to see those words backed up with behaviour.”
3. Get middle managers on board
Conventional wisdom emphasizes the importance of getting the senior team on board. Just as important is getting the support of middle mangers. OnPoint’s research shows top-performing companies are particularly effective at maintaining and increasing mid-level manager involvement during the first three months of a project.
4. Don’t go on auto-pilot
Many companies do a lot of work on the front end to put a plan in place that clearly communicates the objectives and prioritizes them so that employees know what they should be doing when. They assume when they lay out the work to be done all they need to do is switch on the automatic pilot and say, “Go,” and employees will stay committed to the plan and carry out the change. Treat your plan as a living document–one that revise and update as you discover unanticipated problems and opportunities.
5. Keep it realistic
Regardless of how often you revisit and revise your plan, your change won’t be successful if you aren’t realistic about what can be accomplished in the time available. Don’t set employees up for failure by asking them to bite off more than they can chew in the first critical few months. If they feel overwhelmed or pressed for time in getting certain goals accomplished, they will lose enthusiasm for the effort.
6. Assume it’ll take a lot of resources and time
If you don’t provide employees with the resources they need to be successful, they either won’t be able to commit themselves to making the change successful or they won’t be able do their jobs well. “Eighty-two percent of the people at top performing organizations we surveyed said that the availability of adequate resources is a key element in successfully achieving change objectives,” says Lepsinger.
7. Work to bolster morale
Think about what’s going on during the first month of the change. Senior-level managers are pumping up the troops, promoting the change and making sure everyone is on board. After the first month, though, those senior-level managers return to their day-to-day jobs, and employees can lose focus on the task at hand. To keep employee enthusiasm from waning, continuously celebrate your company’s successes and communicate the benefits of the change to your employees so that they stay motivated and continue to perform at a high level.