One of my clients attempted to drive a large transformation with no consideration for the impact on the front-line employees. They did not even provide training for employees to know how to operate in the new culture. I came in afterward to help them reshape the project, sought to engage the front-line, and helped them drive greater success.
Conversely, wise executives think about how employees will operate in the new environment. They find ways to engage the front-line to (at a minimum) determine how to implement the change. These leaders consider three factors:
1. Cultivate a spirit of cooperation to implement the greater good
2. View resistance as a positive, and use it to rationalize the change
3. Make it fun
Cooperation: In 2017, you would think that organizational culture had progressed to a point where leaders treat front-line employees with basic respect. After all, it is the front line who actually operates the company every day. Yet I still see holdouts to the old view that there are two groups of people: altruistic leaders who look out for the good of the company and the employee base who are wanton beggars eking out a miserable life and who should do what they are told. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but I do it to make a point. True leaders seek to cooperate with the front-line employees to help drive the change. They recognize they need for the front-line to be successful if the company is to be successful.
Resistance: In a recent conversation with a client, he was surprised that I advised him to seek out the resistors. I told him that resistors often provide some of the best input for a project. First, they provide reasons why the change won’t work. This reveals risks to the project that you must mitigate to be successful. If resistors are not heard, these risks may never be known – until you try to implement the change and it fails. Second, if you can convert resistors into supporters, they can be some of your most ardent advocates for change.
Fun: This might sound easy, but making change fun requires creativity. For one client, we incorporated interactive games and relevant puzzles in a one-day, off-site pre-launch meeting. I participated when another senior executive took the entire project team – maybe 20 of us – to a White Sox game (they won). Another time, we took a leadership team through a cooking class the evening before an all-day off-site. These events build comradery and a sense of team – founded on a basis of interpersonal trust and commitment, which helps unite the team toward the common project goal.
Front-line engagement results in more effective change. It generates ideas, buy-in, and acceptance. People simply work harder when they are part of the process instead of having a process forced upon them. Wouldn’t you? Engagement is one of the elements we discuss in more detail in the Activate program. Click to learn more.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,
p.s. Looking for more wisdom in the art of strategic change? Check out another expert, Jeff Skipper.