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Five practical steps to the people side of change


Analise Polsky, Thought Leader, SAS Best Practices

Change is a challenging, complicated, and emotional process. In the business world, we don’t always want to confront the emotional side of change because it feels unpredictable and uncontrollable; yet we need people to drive our change initiatives. Whether your change is implementing a new technology, establishing data governance, or introducing analytics, the following recommendations will help you deal with people as stakeholders of change.

1. Define the purpose of the change
You must be able to express why the change is happening and understand what the change will mean to employees. For example, “A new target marketing campaign driven by analytics will give us an edge over the competition,” doesn’t connect the employee to the initiative. It is an organization-centric message. A better approach will link the message to areas of impact that employees can relate to. For instance, “We’ve projected that new target marketing capabilities will increase sales uplift in the double-digits. This puts us in a good position to make our commissions.”  Understand and communicate the impact of the change. Does the change impact society, the customer, or a specific team or department? If so, how? Will the change impact “me” personally or professionally?

2. Allow for self-expression and feedback
According to a 2009 study published in the McKinsey Quarterly, when we are given the opportunity to choose for ourselves we are more committed to the outcome by a factor of five-to-one. Listen to employee comments, concerns, or suggestions. Allow staff members to shape their own messages about the change initiative. For example, the IT department is launching a new service request application for all employees (a large initiative). The members of IT department are the ones who can say why it was necessary and why it will help IT.The executive team and members of other departments can weigh in on why this is important for the company and what it will mean for rest of the organization. The resulting message about the new service application is peer-driven and not derived from top-down edict. This will have a positive impact on morale and buy-in as the initiative gets put into action.

3. Encourage self-reflection
We tend to be slightly biased and less self-critical when it comes to our own behavior
. If you don’t know how you are really behaving or how your behavior is affecting others, then how can you be expected to behave differently? Maybe outwardly you are supporting the change initiative but your behaviors are not?

Self-assessment surveys and facilitated group conversations, which focus on your peers giving each other feedback, help people identify and reflect on their actions and behaviors. People in leadership positions should also participate in these activities. Executives and managers are highly visible in the organizational structure, and their commitment and communication of the message will influence people throughout the entire organization.

4. Pick the right “carrot”
Money is certainly a great motivator, but it is not the only one. When implementing a change you might “think outside the bank”: consider incentives that are personal and unexpected. ANZ bank sent a bottle of champagne to every employee thanking them for their contribution to the company’s “Perform, Grow, and Break-Out” program. The McKinsey study cites another banking executive who sent personal thank-you notes to employees on the first anniversary of the bank’s change management program. In both examples, the incentives were social rewards. They connected the employee to the company in a non-financial way, which resulted in higher satisfaction and increased commitment to their respective change programs.  

5. Communicate and provide information in a consistent manner
Resistance often stems from confusion, misinformation, or a lack of information. Formalize a communication plan that includes the first two recommendations and considers the following questions:

  • How will you connect with your employees as the change is occurring?
  • Where can people get information about the project or program?
  • Are the support mechanisms in place if someone has questions or has doubts?
  • How will they know if their project is succeeding?

Regardless of the change you are trying to make, getting people to embrace change does not have to be as complicated as we make it out to be. The recommendations above keep your next change initiative people-friendly, thus increasing its likelihood of success. 

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One Comment

  1. Terresa
    Posted July 30, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Awesome article, simply stated yet very informative.

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