When companies want to grow, differentiate, or compete effectively, they don’t take baby steps. They transform. If your involved in a transformation initiatives, your success will be directly correlated to how well you engage people. Without having everyone pulling in the same direction, your chances of reaching your goals are minuscule at best. You need people from thinking that they need to ‘survive this change’ to getting on board and thriving with this change.
What is growth? What’s going to help our company move to the next level.
1. It’s about communication
“Well duh, of course we are going to communicate, Jeff!” Yes, but this can be done so poorly. During times of stress, messaging is critical. From branding and credibility, to tone and timing, there are many variables to balance.
Start by telling them what you know. Finish by telling them what you don’t know. Not everything is decided up front. You will be asked questions you don’t have the answer to, so make it clear what’s still a work in progress.
Tell them what you DON’T know.
Give them a timeline: When are the answers coming? Unpredictable futures create fear. A clear structure fosters a sense of control and reduces fear allowing them to better understand engage with your change.
2. It’s about focus
When organization announce major new initiatives, people focus on what’s changing.
- Will I lose my job?
- Will I be working with different people?
- Do I have the skills to be successful?
Those answers might not be readily available, and people spend way too much time trying to figure out the answer by spinning ‘what ifs’.
Instead, get them focused on what’s not changing. Start with mission. The direction has not changed. Then tell what else will remain the same, providing anchors they can hold onto as the pieces move around them.
3. It’s about them
We’ve all heard about WIIFM: What’s In It For Me. Leaders tend to focus on WIIFTC: What’s in it for the company. “This restructuring positions us to compete!” Like parents telling us, “This is good for you,” we just hear, “It’s going to hurt.” People want to duck and cover.
When I provide advisory support to leaders on major transformations, I have them spend significant time listening to employees. Take them for coffee. Run a focus group. Buy them breakfast. Create space for them to tell you what they care about.
Once you understand what’s important to your employees, then you can describe WIIFM from their point-of-view:
- Work with new people
- Opportunities to progress
- Build brand new skills
- Upside in profit-sharing
- Job stability
4. It’s about preparation
Not yours, but theirs. What can employees be doing now to get ready for the change? Any action they can take increases a sense of being involved in the change rather than being a victim of it. Popular ideas I’ve suggested include:
- Watching demos
- Taking early bird training
- Shifting conversations with customers
- Brainstorming brand ideas
- Role playing new scenarios
- Engaging in testing or a pilot
To shift people from survival mode as bystanders, to thrive mode as an integral part of your transformation, it’s critical to truly involve your people. It’s time-consuming work to be sure, but since relationships are key to every leader’s effectiveness, doing the leg work and building a community of support will pay off on many fronts.