In a dynamic and continually changing business environment, embracing change is ever so vital to drive performance, meet business objectives and create a competitive advantage. As organisations strive to navigate through change, the value of leaders who can understand and genuinely connect with their teams is immeasurable as it helps enhance engagement and nurture a cohesive workplace culture.
But how can organisations empower such leaders? More importantly, what are the critical steps to start building change-ready organisations?
In partnership with O.C. Tanner, People Matters organised an exciting webcast to dissect modern change management practices. In conversation with Neha Arur, Senior Director, Human Resources, ZS Associates and Karan Bhasin, Director, Sales & Solution, O.C. Tanner IMEA Region, we decoded how to address the challenges that arise during change management, discussed strategies to empower leaders and amplify employee voices and listed best practices to elevate the employee experiences.
The pitfalls of traditional change management frameworks
In an era marked by far-reaching disruptions, the current pace of change required to thrive is inadequate due to inefficient change management practices, Karan highlighted. The traditional top-down approach with unidirectional communication and rigid decision-making is often discomforting for employees and leaders. Typically project-oriented, linear and limited, the formal change management process fails to consider the dynamic nature of changing work. These inadequacies often result in a lack of employee involvement as people become disconnected spectators, inefficient decision-making due to the absence of leadership on the ground level and a higher likelihood of implementation failure. These failures are costly. According to the 2024 Global Culture Report by O.C. Tanner Institute, employees who experience stress due to change are four times more likely to be burned out and two times more likely to be detractors of the organisation.
A shift to a more transparent and people-centric change management approach is necessary for organisations to thrive in the future of work.
What are the transformative changes in the talent and cultural landscape in 2024?
Neha shared that one can expect the following talent trends to reign supreme in the coming year:
- Engaging a multi-generational workforce: Balancing the expectations of a diverse workforce and helping younger employees develop critical soft skills to thrive and lead.
- Managing new ways of working: Integrating new gig and flexible workers into the workforce while maintaining a culture of belongingness, building trust and ensuring high productivity across locations.
- Enabling managers to become coaches: Supporting managers transitioning from mere supervisors to actively building team values and motivation.
- Mitigating bias in people’s decisions: Training the workforce to be more aware of their subconscious biases and making more objective decisions.
- Integrating new-age AI tools: Leveraging and building an analytical mindset to gather data, study it and gather insights from business processes.
Karan added that the top priorities for the organisations to thrive in 2024 should be around the following:
- Be change-ready by implementing people-oriented change management practices to tackle new business environments, technologies, business models and workforce expectations.
- Include leaders in change management and empower them to manage change as it directly impacts their employees and teams.
- Give employees a voice in change management to solicit and acknowledge feedback so that employees feel less likely to feel anxious.
- Creating an inclusive workplace for employees with non-desk jobs so that they feel valued and feel connected to organisation.
What strategies will empower leaders during change management?
One of the biggest insights from the 2024 Global Culture Report is that just 27% of leaders feel strongly prepared to help people navigate change, it becomes essential to understand how organisations can support leaders in implementing effective change management strategies. Neha explained that top leadership teams are usually ahead of the curve and have started envisioning how a specific change will be implemented before discussing it with their teams. This results in a gap, as when they discuss a potential change with middle managers, they are already much farther ahead in their perspectives. In this context, it becomes necessary for the company’s top leadership to build empathy and understanding in the team and communicate why action is necessary, its expected results and the limitations.
“Values cannot be created in the corner office, and an alignment between the personal and organisational values will appear only when they are decided democratically,” Neha added. The next step is to make leaders a part of the change by listening to their ideas and accepting their input. This makes them active stakeholders rather than recipients who only execute orders from the higher-ups. Then, reduce the unpredictability and vagueness of the change by clarifying expectations, discussing timelines and clearly stating what results you expect. In essence, you need to address concerns around change by embracing contrary opinions, giving leaders voices and understanding why resistance is building.
What are the best modern change management practices?
Karan laid down the following strategies to follow when implementing organisational changes:
Focus on culture and communication
Create a healthy culture that values change by designing a robust communication plan. Use timely, transparent, consistent and accessible updates that give managers the information and tools to discuss change with their team members. A sincere change communication strategy can make leaders feel supported to lead transformation and build connections with people, boost team morale and minimise attrition.
Empower leaders to manage change
Decentralise the top-down approach as it increases the stress on middle management. Instead, gather insights, understand how the expected change will impact different teams and co-create a smooth implementation process. When leaders have the tools to manage change, their risk of burnout can decrease by 73%.
Give people a voice
When people know that change is inevitable, let them know they are a part of it. Get their feedback, understand their concerns and answer their queries through focus group discussions, town hall meetings and one-on-one discussions. These simple actions can make people less anxious and more likely to stay.
An example of how these three steps could be implemented would be O.C. Tanner’s collaboration with IAG, their client, wherein the company embarked on a cultural transformation to connect their business strategy better to purpose. They redesigned their approach and incorporated employee recognition to increase employee pride, motivation and performance. Through a comprehensive change management programme that used regular feedback and updates, 18 top-level executives used insights and data to implement cultural changes that recognised people to reinforce behaviours and values. Within 14 months of launch, 100% of employees received some form of recognition, and 90% of managers had submitted a recognition through the program.
Karan emphasised that recognition can help organisations make a critical shift during change management. The findings from the 2024 Global Culture Report show that employees are nine times more likely to feel they have support to deal with change and believe that the organisation cares about them in workplaces where recognition is highly integrated into the culture. “By building a people-centric change management approach, employers can communicate to employees that they matter, are supported and are a vital part of organisational success,” he added.
What are the best practices for building a culture of appreciation?
Karan also shared three best practices that can help organisations and leaders amplify the impact of their recognition:
- Encourage people’s effort: Acknowledge when people are on the right track, motivate them with positive comments when they are consistently good on long-term projects and make instant pat-on-the-backs a regular feature.
- Reward results: Reward people when they achieve success by highlighting the impact they create to accelerate social motivation in the team.
- Celebrate careers: Cultivate a sense of trust and belonging by creating an environment that values people’s contribution, time and commitment.
Neha added that besides celebrating big wins, making thoughtful applications for smaller victories for people who manage BAU (Business as Usual) operations is important. She recommends timing the appreciation right by creating an urgency to recognise effort, broadcasting the acknowledgement publicly, and enabling peer-to-peer, cross-functional and even cross-location appreciation to foster a culture of mutual appreciation in the organisation.
How can organisations amplify employee voices and be empathetic during change?
Karan said that while HR teams are adept at using various tools to gather employee opinions and feedback, what eventually matters is how this data is used. While it may only be possible to implement some of the changes that employees expect, being transparent about the process and communicating how you address employee concerns can make a lot of difference. After years of experience, leaders tend to get into the habit of putting a tick mark on their to-do list, which erodes empathy from people's processes.
Karan suggested that instead of five extensive policy or procedural changes, focus on getting a couple of them, but do them well, communicate their importance to people and measure their impact. To amplify employee voices and build empathy, leaders require specialised training that puts them in the shoes of different team members and helps them understand what everyone else in the team is going through.
Neha added that it is better to err on the side of over-communication during any change than to risk leaving people in the dark. She shared, “At the end of the day, it is people who are driving the change, and rather than imposing it on them, we need to invite people across different levels and functions to understand what works for them and what doesn’t.” She added the following three actionable steps to achieve these goals:
- Self-reflect: Before you convey any message to your team, pause and introspect whether it excites you. If you do not like what you are saying or how you are saying it, chances are others won’t as well.
- Focus on low-effort and high-impact interventions: Make sure you drive programs out of the BAU framework to build long-term value and changes for the organisational culture and people processes.
- Be inclusive: Make sure leaders know how to act, acknowledge, and manage inclusively, as this can revolutionise the energy, passion, motivation, and impact of the entire team.
What should be your first step to embracing change in 2024?
Neha suggested finding the right sponsors and ambassadors who can support HR’s vision of change as the first step. She cautions HR leaders and professionals against assuming they own the change process and says it’s important to remember HR’s role of enabling and facilitating change. Karan highlighted that the first step to any effective organisational change must be to build people-centric policies, procedures, culture, values and experiences that can help amplify what employees expect and think.
The road to building a change-ready organisation will undoubtedly come with its twists and turns. But when leaders prioritise a people-centric approach and lead the charge with recognition, relationships and resilience, embracing what the future holds with all its risks and opportunities will become much easier. And you will finally solve the puzzle to thrive even amidst disruptions, no matter what lies ahead…
Watch the recorded webcast to learn more about the actionable strategies and best practices to modern change management. To dive deeper and learn more about how to build a change-ready organisation, please visit https://www.octanner.com/global-culture-report