Tom TateNovember 23, 2021
Topics: Manager Experience

The Change Wave Is Coming: Will You Sink or Swim?

Employees’ attitudes and preferences about work have morphed since 2020 – it’s up to HR leaders to help their organizations navigate uncharted waters.

We explored the new currents of change management last week on Talent Experience Live with Phenom’s own Natalie McKnight, Executive Director of Customer Success. McKnight shared tools and tactics she’s learned to help leaders and employees alike embrace meaningful change.

Read on for the highlights, or catch the full episode below.

A new approach to change management

“Change management” has taken on corporate-buzzword status. And the way many organizations are handling falls short, according to Forbes. How should employers think about it in today’s context?

For starters, realize that any change – even a positive one – is a disruption, which is why embracing change doesn’t come naturally. There’s an art form to managing that, said McKnight, whose team helps ensure successful implementation of the Phenom platform for companies across the globe.

“Change management is always a big piece of what we try to cover with our customers because we’re implementing software. To get somebody to use something new, you’re always going to be met with initial resistance, because people don’t really like change. It’s just how we are as humans.”

Identify what employees need and find a way to meet them there

With 2022 fast approaching, employees (and job seekers) expect organizations to be ready to provide a collaborative work environment that accommodates the spectrum of preferences.

“It’s about organizations’ ability to adapt to employee needs,” McKnight said. “We have to figure out … what our employees want and need, and how to adapt to that as employers.”

Before embracing change, employees need to see its value

McKnight has observed that the most successful implementations happen when leaders communicate the value the platform will bring to end-users.

“Leaders … recognize that this level of technology and the solution we’re able to provide is revolutionary, and it’s something that’s vastly needed across organization,” she said. “But when you get to the user level, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute … why do I need Phenom?’ That’s really where the change management piece comes in.”

Although leaders are facing a different type of change, the lesson transfers – figure out how the change will disrupt employees before putting new processes or policies into motion. Be empathetic but communicate why some initial disruption will be worth it in the end.

The peaks and valleys of change experience

Here are a few tips for managers to navigate this challenging terrain.

Expect resistance, and adjust accordingly

“You’re always going to be met with a certain level of resistance,” McKnight said, which is a “fork in the road” for organizations.

“You can either try to plow through it, or you can look at what you’re doing and say, ‘What do we need to adjust to make sure that we’re compromising completely and really making this … work for everybody?’ That’s when you really start to see that improvement. You’ve gotta get through that valley before you see the peak.”

Invite feedback then listen and iterate

One of the most important concepts in change management is iteration – that is, you’ll constantly need to pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t, and make improvements. Employee feedback is the key driver of iteration.

“It’s really, really important as a leader to listen and be open to the feedback you’re getting so that you can then iterate,” McKnight emphasized. “There’s no finish line. If you try to create one … you’re never going to embrace change.”

Leaders need to buy-in

When leaders communicate that they believe the change will produce successful outcomes, it’s a powerful message that helps drive buy-in among employees.

“We find that the more invested the leader is in implementation, the better it goes across the board, and the more likely we are to drive adoption,” McKnight said.

Find early adopters and detractors

It’s best when a mix of leaders and team members influence change together. Identify employees who will be champions early. “Peer to peer is so valuable,” McKnight said.

Also, find detractors and invite their feedback. Making detractors feel heard from the beginning can offset consistent resistance throughout the entire process.

Find a unifying purpose to connect employees

Change management tactics often fail when employees don’t feel aligned with an organization’s values, or connected to a common purpose.

For example, telling employees they need to return to the office because that’s what the executive team decided doesn’t communicate true purpose. Leaders need to find a way to show the value connected to that decision (for the organization and the workforce) so that employees feel they’re returning to the office for a purpose.

Flexibility is critical

Will one-size-fits-all work in 2022? Probably not. “Number one is, listen to your employees,” McKnight said. “What has their experience been, and what are they looking for in the future?”

Employee surveys may not be revolutionary, but they’re still a great way to collect data on what people want and need from the organization.

“Flexibility is huge – it’s massive in this new world,” McKnight said. “People now expect a level of flexibility. If you’re seeing that as a trend in the feedback you’re getting … how are you going to offer that to them?”

Jump into change – or ease in?

When it comes to change, what’s best – to dive in headfirst, or wade slowly into the water?

The approach depends on the organization, culture, and the level of change you’re trying to effect, McKnight believes.

“Two years ago I would have said wade in, but 2020 changed that. We were forced in … [but] there’s value in making people feel comfortable.”

Tips for employees facing workplace changes

1. Give honest feedback

When your employer invites feedback, be honest. “Surveys are anonymous for a reason!” McKnight pointed out. If no one’s asking for employee feedback, it may be time to question whether that’s the right place for you.

2. Identify what’s most important to you

Employees should think critically about what they value most, and how their current situation is impacting themselves and their families. Assess whether you feel connected to a purpose.

“Organizations are going to have to make decisions that align with their goals,” McKnight pointed out. If those goals no longer align with your own, it may be time to look elsewhere for new opportunities.

3. Beware of running toward the same problems

Employees considering jumping ship should keep in mind that they may find themselves in the same situation at their new jobs, McKnight noted. Workplaces everywhere are experiencing similar challenges.

“If you’ve put all this time and effort into building a role, give the organization time to figure it out too.”

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