Have you ever thought about how your employees feel when you take the lead in change processes?
Let us consider a private example: How does change management work in your own home? Imagine your partner taking the lead and wanting to rearrange the apartment. He wants to swap the bedroom with the living room and switch the kids’ room and the home office. How would you react? Under what circumstances would you join in and tackle the challenges on the path to a newly organized home?
Well, first of all, you will need to answer this question: ‘Why do we need to do this right now?’ There must be a reason above all else. And this reason needs to speak to your values and preferences. Only then will you agree to take part in this restructuring of your personal sphere.
A lack of reasoning or reasoning that is incomprehensible leads to reluctance and even resistance – regardless of what kind of changes you want to implement. If you want to change something in your team or your company, then it has to make sense. And don’t rock up with something as broad as ‘We want to grow. We want to be more competitive. We want to make more profit.’
While these goals are understandable, it would be more relevant for your employees if you were to answer this question: What benefits would this growth have for the employees? With that you could – potentially – convince them.
If you have absolutely no benefits to offer your employees, then it will be difficult to find willing comrades in arms.
Generally, good reasons for changes are improving the employees’ working conditions, such as solving conflicts and thereby improving teamwork or simplifying communication and processes and thereby saving time. If you can convincingly demonstrate these things and your employees can follow your line of reasoning, then you are on the right track.
So, your employees now understand the goal. That’s the first step. Now comes the sticking point: What exactly do you change to reach this goal?
Restructuring? Shifting of responsibilities? Additional tasks?
Your employees want to know this on a practical level: How do these changes help us to achieve these benefits? And who will help us to shoulder the new responsibilities? These are all things they will have #neverdonebefore.
What happens when you outsource the work of an entire department, dissolve it, and let some of the employees go? Your team members will automatically start to fear that they will be the next. This happens to everyone, even top talent and key employees. And even if no one is let go, the fear of losing one’s job is ever-present in a change process.
Professor John Kotter from Harvard University puts it like this: Develop an objective and a strategy for leadership in the change process. For your strategy to be accepted fundamentally, it is important to not dictate from above but rather to bring in your employees as much as possible when it comes to developing the actual measures. Of course, you don’t need to discuss the principle decision-making with them, but it is very sensible to include them in the distribution of new tasks and many other details.
The atmosphere in an organization – depending on how drastic the change measures are – is often one of mixed emotions, with frustration, uncertainty, and fear all mingling together.
A further example: Halving the sick rate is an abstract goal for employees. Sure, it would be great if employees were ill less often, but it also sounds like a way for the organization to save costs. At the same time, it contains some criticism directed towards the employees: ‘There’s too much sick leave going on.’ The employees do not immediately see what they get out of it.
However, if you define additional goals, such as more fun and enjoyment at work, leaders treating employees with more respect, regular praise, a good mood in the team, and a harmonious atmosphere of cooperation and teamwork and if you present this as a way to finally eliminate the thinking in silos, then this change process will make a lot of sense to the employees.
The first step in the change process is developing a comprehensible strategy and sensible measures while involving the employees as much as possible.
For good leadership in the change process, you need a plan that credibly sets out how the goal is to be achieved and what benefits the employees will gain.
The next step is decisive: How do you measure progress? How can you tell that things have improved – especially if you are working with qualitative goals? Very few organizations make the effort to measure the quality of their progress and how to share the results. Although the KPIs of cost development or the service creation process are measured, does anyone also measure the KPIs of the quality of teamwork? Rarely.
Instead, we often proceed with a ‘Shut your eyes and get through it’ approach. Yet, when even very good leaders do not skillfully catch uncertainties and fears, then acceptance and performance will be sub-par as well as below the leader’s expectations. Numerous studies show that only 25% of change projects succeed.
The solution is trivial and is nevertheless rarely used. Involve your employees both in the definition of the change measures as well as in the definition of the measurement criteria. To ensure the success of your measures, consider the perspective of the employees. After all, they are expected to not only implement the changes but also live them.
The more you include the employees, the higher the level of information they have, and the lower their uncertainty and frustration because they have been able to contribute to the design, at least partially.
I am convinced: Even in the digital age, people are driven by the idea that they want to make a positive contribution. They also want to be seen to be contributing. Those who complain often do not feel visible enough. If you include them in developing a solution or in implementing it, then they receive recognition, feel visible, and will more quickly begin to work constructively.
The second step of change is regularly measuring progress. But don’t use hard KPIs, like costs and length of the process, choose qualitative KPIs, like employee motivation and the quality of the teamwork. In this way, you will develop a focus on these qualitative factors. And these so-called soft KPIs actually enable you to achieve the hard, the often easily measurable KPIs.
While working with a client a few years ago, I discovered that they had developed a leadership mission statement for their area and their five managers. My client had worked on this mission statement by himself in his own little office and had then presented it to his employees in a team meeting. While he was aware that this leadership mission statement was an indirect criticism of the previous leadership quality – albeit packaged as a positive statement – he had not realized how demotivating it would be. He was equally unaware of the fact that his managers would not be very receptive to this mission statement, and he wondered why his meticulously developed suggestions did not elicit much enthusiasm.
Another client was thinking about developing new guiding principles for leadership. He wanted to book me for a workshop to hammer out the new leadership mission statement. Okay, so at least this client wanted to include his managers in the process. But something was missing. Exactly: The workers. Those who would actually have to implement this mission statement were missing. You will only have the acceptance of your employees – managers and workers – if you include all employees or at least some representatives. Be sure to also include workers or indeed any others who could offer critique: Works council members, staff advisors, and other workers whose opinions count in the workforce. If you do this, then no one can turn around and say: ‘I am completely against this because I was never consulted.’ Quite the opposite: Everyone had a hand in making a creative contribution.
Bodo Janssen, CEO and owner of the Upstalsboom hotel chain, shows us how it’s done: First, the top management must question themselves. Second, changes need time. Third, setbacks are normal. And fourth, you can change a lot by including the employees.
If you are wondering how to change things, then Upstalsboom can offer good guidance. The hotel chain has, among other things, defined twelve values for their new business culture.
Who was significantly involved in developing these values? The workers. And how well were these values lived by the team? Actually, not that well. Why? Because these things need time and persistence. In fact, Upstalsboom’s business culture did not change until each team had chosen a value to focus on for the next six months and had discussed it regularly in team meetings, whereby each employee needed to give at least one example of how they or someone else had lived this value in the previous two weeks.
Step by step. If you want to know more, check out Die Stille Revolution on YouTube.
Let us look at the value of appreciation. If the employees don’t remind themselves to have what I call an ‘appreciative togetherness’ daily or at least a few times a week, then they will just keep on doing as they always have. What do the employees at Upstalsboom do? At the start of every team meeting, participants gather for four minutes in groups of three or four. In these small groups, everyone gives everyone else positive feedback: What did they appreciate when they last worked with a colleague in the previous four weeks? In this way, appreciation is truly lived, and the employees experience how it works. Of course, it doesn’t always work immediately. However, by reminding everyone else in the team, it gets better one step at a time. Eventually, the desired results emerge, and employee motivation increases.
So, if each team chooses one value to integrate into their daily activities every six months, then it will take six years for each team to practice each value for six months. Yep! It certainly won’t take quite so long, but it makes sense to expect a culture change to take years.
Changes are never simply the changing of a process. Changes are generally changes in how we fundamentally think and act. That is why Step 3 is being patient in establishing a new way of thinking and in working towards teamwork in many tiny steps. Patience combined with persistence will bring you to your goal.
Whatever it is that you want to change in your organization, you need to monitor. Monitoring means regularly assessing where you are: What worked well and what didn’t? How do you adjust things that aren’t working yet? Do you inform your employees about any initial success that has been achieved? This is important to stay on-topic and to foster the drive to persist with the process.
This task is challenging: Your business culture has grown over the years or even decades. Changing it requires energy, time, and above all, consistent persistence. Only if you are willing to invest will your organizational culture change in the way that you want it to.
Are you ready to persist?