“I told them once, didn’t they get it?”
These words will forever ring in my ears as a textbook example of an executive who doesn’t understand how to effectively lead change. The underlying issue facing this change: the leader failed to engage his front-line to successfully drive a major transformation. Ultimately it failed to produce the intended results.
From a front-line employee perspective:
- They didn’t understand how the change would add value to the organization.
- They didn’t know how to work differently to affect the change.
- They didn’t understand their role to communicate with other stakeholders.
Let’s turn these statements around. Effective leaders engage the front-line to help drive change. They do this by a), clearly articulating the purpose for the change, by b), helping employees understand how they will work differently, and c), enlist them as advocates for the change.
Purpose: A leader starts by clearly articulating clear purpose and benefits, and then relates these to the employees. Once employees understand how the purpose and benefits relate to them, they are more likely to embrace the change and support it. For the employees, this is the WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me.” When one of my clients implemented a large change, the leaders talked with employees about the benefits to the ultimate end-consumer of their products and services, and how different employee groups contributed to this larger result. As a result, the employees became advocates for the change.
Work differently: I don’t expect a CEO to define in detail how employees on the shop-floor might interact differently with each other because of a change. She will, however, speak broadly about how different departments are impacted by the change. She holds executives accountable to drive to deeper detail AND engages employees to help define and implement the changes in the work process.
Advocates: One of the most effective ways to drive a change is to engage the front-line as advocates for the change. One client actively engaged their front-line team to talk about the change with others inside and outside the function. This team, once beleaguered with low morale, started talking about the results of the change. Early on when formal statistics weren’t yet available, these employees described how “things felt better,” because of senior leader action. Later the formal measures proved that “things” improved significantly with lower attrition and higher engagement.
A 2012 Gallup report said this: “People have emotional needs, and if they are not attended to, the result is subpar performance and increased turnover. Even the best processes and systems are inefficient if the people who run them aren't emotionally invested in the outcome. To drive performance, organizations must engage their employees.” I completely agree.
Call to action:
- Be sure your purpose is clear, and that employees understand the intent of the change.
- Help employees understand how they will interact differently.
- Engage the organization to be advocates of the change.
Strong leaders say front-line involvement is one of the most impactful elements for them because it launches significant buy-in and acceptance, which in turn helps them exceed profitability expectations. Who wouldn’t want that?