Over the years, I’ve seen two main drivers of change: functional and cultural. Functional change is just as it sounds. Your organization needs to change in order to keep up with the rapid pace of developments — or, more to the point, disruptions.
This year alone, it seems almost every industry is either launching or completing some type of digital strategy. Most strategies focus mainly on improving the experience of the end user. Robo-advisors in financial services, artificial intelligence in consumer goods, and let’s not forget voice-activated shopping from e-commerce giant Amazon.
But in addition to striving to be functional in these shifting sands, many organizations are finding it difficult to recruit and retain talent — which is not much of a surprise. A low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent coupled with what many people consider a skills shortage has created a fairly tight labor market. In other words, employers are also facing a talent disruption.
Most business leaders are now looking for ways to create a more attractive and inspiring work environment. Ideally, the change they seek is systemic, such as defining an organizational purpose and using it to drive culture, inform decisions, and navigate growth.
The Cultural Divide
I don’t need to tell you how important strong leadership is to help guide workers through a company transformation. Employees will look to you for clarity in how their roles, responsibilities, and work might change. And it’s up to you, as a business leader, to provide transparency in the reasons driving this new direction of the business.
Naturally, this requires you to listen to more than just direct reports — the old-school “command and control” model won’t work. You must give audience to the entire workforce in order to help shape change and build a consensus of ownership around it. Involving everyone also fosters trust across the organization and gives employees an opportunity to contribute and take an active role in the transformation.
We are seeing this now as some companies are focusing on diversity and gender equality in the workplace. HP, for example, recently launched its #MoreLikeMe initiative for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which is an idea based on research showcasing the benefits of diversity at work. As more companies make issues like workplace equality a priority, it’s important to rally the entire organization around this common cause.
Still, you might find some resistance. After all, it can be unsettling and unnerving to be in the midst of a drastic change in an organization. The following can help make your staff feel more involved and invested at every stage of the business transformation:
1. Engage the workforce. If you want employees to feel involved and invested, their questions and concerns shouldn’t go unheard. Hold town halls to share information. Establish focus groups to work through solutions and co-create new initiatives. Seek and act on feedback involving the transformation. When you ignore employees, you do yourself no favors with your recruitment or retention efforts.
2. Celebrate change. You’ve probably established a timeline for the rollout of the transformation to minimize the impact on business. It’ll give those directly involved an opportunity to secure all the necessary supplies and resources to make for a smooth transition. But within the timeline, find opportunities to engage the workforce as a whole and celebrate each new chapter or phase of the transition.
3. Think inside out. Sometimes business leaders can get so fixated on how the change will affect business that they often overlook the impact it will have on their internal customers. Never underestimate the significance of training to quell nerves and generate enthusiasm. Don’t, however, take a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Find out what your people care about and how they prefer to learn. The ultimate goal is to make every employee feel supported during the transformation.
Organizations cannot change — at least not successfully — unless their leaders are willing to change as well. You set the vision and direction for the company, and this vision and direction are what will inspire the rest of the workforce to embrace the transformation. For better or for worse, change will always start with you.
MaryLee Sachs is the co-founder of BrandPie and the CEO of the U.S. company. She has spent over 25 years in the field of marketing communications, and she has also authored two books helping CMOs unleash their full potential. Over the course of her career, she has worked with major brands such as P&G, American Express, Kellogg’s, and PepsiCo to help leaders create their purpose and deploy this internally and externally through brand building and marketing initiatives.