By Bronach Branan, CPA, ACMA, CLSSGB

How organizations manage change has evolved in recent years. No longer is the process a top-down approach where employees are an afterthought. Despite these changes, however, failure rates for transformation initiatives remain stubbornly high.

The strategies discussed in this article directly align with the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement) model , which emphasizes that organizational change can only happen when individuals change.

Today’s organizations recognize that they must incorporate employees into the transformation process from the get-go if they want change initiatives to be successful. Employee insights about systemic problems and purpose-driven solutions are highly valuable to the change management process.

In this article, the Operational Excellence Team from PBMares explores how to involve employees in the transformation process in order to gain buy-in and leverage powerful insights that foster continuous improvement within your organization.

Key Takeaways:

  • Root Causes of Resistance to Change
  • Consequences of Ignoring Employees
  • The Importance of Employee Input
  • 5 Strategies that Get Employees on Board with Change
  • Change Management Approaches That Empower Employees

Root Causes of Resistance to Change

What causes employees to resist change?

When process optimization projects go wrong, post-mortem evaluations often reveal that leadership neglected to seriously consider how employees would react and develop strategies to address those reactions.

Employees are left out of the planning process for a number of reasons:

  •  Short-sighted focus on efficiency. Streamlining processes is prioritized above all else. The immediate cost savings or increased output overshadows the importance of the human element. As a result, employee morale, productivity, and well-being suffer.
  • Employees are not viewed as change enablers. By viewing employees as cogs in the machine rather than valuable contributors, decision makers often fail to involve employees in the planning or decision-making process. This causes employees to feel disenfranchised and resist change.
  • Inadequate emphasis on two-way communication. Changes are announced top-down with little explanation or opportunity for questions. As a result, employees lack trust in leadership and feel overlooked, confused, and anxious about the change.
  • Neglecting training and support. When leadership overlooks the importance of training and support when managing a change initiative, they expect employees to automatically adapt to new processes without proper explanation behind the “why” of the change. This can increase employee frustration and output errors and decrease the sought-after efficiency of the change initiative.

Consequences of Ignoring Employees

When change is first announced, it’s normal for some employees to feel bitter about having to give up the status quo and a model that worked well, in their opinion. But if employees feel overlooked, the consequences of adding a foreign element (as illustrated above) to their workday can be severe.

Those consequences can include:

  • Resistance and pushback. Employees who feel unheard or unsupported are more likely to resist the changes, causing roadblocks to change implementation and hindering success of the initiative.
  • Decreased morale and engagement. Feeling undervalued and unimportant can lead to a decline in employee morale and engagement, ultimately impacting productivity and service or product quality.
  • Increased turnover. Frustrated and unhappy employees are more likely to seek new job opportunities elsewhere, leading to higher turnover costs.
  • Missed opportunities. If key employees leave, the organization loses valuable institutional knowledge. Studies indicate that employees hold the most knowledge when it comes to problem awareness.

Employee Input Is Critical to Change

Change initiatives target problems. And employees often have the most insight into those problems.

The image above illustrates the disconnect that can occur within the hierarchy of an organization. To bridge this gap, leaders must recognize the importance of actively engaging employees and tapping into their insights.

Organizations that see success with change initiatives have often created a culture where employees feel heard. Leaders can accomplish this when they:

  • Flatten the hierarchy. Create a culture where feedback flows freely — up and down. Employees must feel comfortable communicating everyday challenges to management.
  • Encourage honest feedback. Employees will be transparent if they are assured no negative repercussions will result from honest feedback. Encourage employees to ask questions and voice their concerns. Hold town hall meetings or create suggestion boxes to foster open dialogue.
  • Schedule regular check-ins. Team managers and leaders that regularly talk with employees will create goodwill with employees and gather a solid understanding of critical day-to-day issues that typically do not surface in formal meetings or reports.
  • Spend time in physical proximity to employees. When executives spend time on the ground, they engage people they may not ordinarily engage and observe problems and opportunities firsthand.

Strategies that Get Employees to Buy-in to Change

Introduce the Initiative with Sincere and Effective Communication

  • Begin with the “why” and the “how” of the process. Clearly communicate the rationale behind the process changes and how they will benefit the company and employees in the long run. Include data and metrics to showcase potential improvements in efficiency, cost savings, or quality.
  • Communicate with transparency and well in advance. Provide details about training and other types of support employees can expect.
  • Define a clear vision and specific goals. Clearly articulate the purpose and expected outcomes of the process improvement initiative. This helps ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives.
  • Ensure employees feel they are an important part of the change process. Powerful sentiments from a HBR article suggest statements like “In this transformation, no one gets left behind,” and “You are important to me; I need you in order to make this work.”

Address Employee Concerns

Look beyond what seems like resistance or stubbornness. Instead, recognize the status quo details that people treasure and want to protect. This perspective enables leadership to address these items with insight and respect.

  • Fear of the unknown. Anxiety about job security or increased workload is common. Explore how the changes will ultimately benefit employees (e.g., improving work-life balance, reducing workload in the long run, etc.).
  • Lack of trust. Building trust is key. Be transparent about the decision-making process and the data behind the changes.
  • Habit and comfort. Employees can be resistant to change because they are extremely comfortable with the existing routines. Emphasize the benefits of improved efficiency and potential career growth opportunities associated with the new processes.

Acknowledge and address any employee anxieties about the changes. Outline the support they can expect during the transition period to help them overcome any initial challenges.

Finally, it’s essential to acknowledge the pace at which each employee may embrace change. Recognizing and respecting individual differences in adapting to change is crucial. Some may readily embrace new processes, while others may need more time to adjust. Providing tailored support and guidance based on each employee’s comfort level can foster a smoother transition.

Encourage Employee Involvement in the Planning Stage

Organizations that prioritize employee well-being and actively engage them in the planning process dramatically increase the likelihood of successful process optimization. Remember, happy and engaged employees are more productive, innovative, and ultimately contribute to the long-term success of the organization.

  • Gather input during the planning process to create a sense of control and ownership of the changes.
  • Give employees the autonomy to adapt the new processes to their specific workflows.
  • When possible, ask for insights about the most efficient way to implement the changes from the perspective of the employees.

Prioritize Training and Professional Development

  • Encourage employees to adopt a growth mindset. Normalize the fact that there will be skill gaps.
  • Offer training for any new processes to ensure everyone understands how to implement them effectively.
  • Develop engaging professional development programs that specifically target new skill sets employees will need and offer ongoing support during the transition period.

Celebrate Success Along the Way

Demonstrating the benefits of change can be pivotal in motivating employees.

  • Recognize employees who embrace the change and contribute positively to the implementation process. Public recognition can motivate others to get on board.
  • Highlight positive outcomes. Showcase how the process changes are leading to desired results (e.g., increased efficiency, cost savings, improved quality, etc.).

Change Management Approaches That Support Employees

The strategies below can help create a more positive and productive environment for implementing process improvements within your organization.

  • Phased approach. Rather than drastically overhauling existing processes simultaneously, implement the changes in stages. This allows for easier adaptation and helps identify and address any unforeseen issues early on.
  • Pilot programs. Test the new processes in a smaller group or department first. This allows for refinement before a full-scale rollout and provides valuable feedback.
  • Strong leadership. When leaders champion the change and are visible making their own sacrifices throughout the process, their enthusiasm and commitment will set the tone for the rest of the organization.

Learn More

Every organization wants to remain competitive, delight customers, and retain its best employees. Organizations that find ways to encourage employees to support change initiatives will achieve significant improvements in efficiency, employee retention, and customer satisfaction.

Contact us today to learn more about Operational Excellence and the dramatic results you can unlock for your business.