May 10, 2021
In the digital age, what are the key takeaways for organisations wanting to prepare their workforce for change?
This article highlights, in our experience, three key obstacles that hinder an organisation from successfully embedding change and therefore should be at the forefront of leadership team discussions in looking to address, when rolling out business change.
With the unprecedented pace of technology advancements, globalisation, and innovation, Credera has noticed that markets are being disrupted by forward-thinking, pioneering, and adaptive organisations. After 178 years of existence, we saw one of the UK’s favourite airline and travel agency companies, Thomas Cook, file for bankruptcy in 2019. Fundamentally, the company was unable to innovate and respond to customers’ changing technological requirements. Another example saw Kodak falling behind the digital era, and Blockbuster was eventually overtaken by Netflix.
These are only a couple of examples of well-known organisations who revealed their inability to swiftly respond to evolving market conditions and adapt to the times. The companies that triggered their downfall - the Apples and Googles of this world - were miles ahead of the curve, reimagining their business models, structure, and internal processes to offer a desirable product or service that satisfied their digital customer base. The organisations who are able to adapt to the ever-changing external environment will be the ones who reap the rewards.
What are the challenges of implementing business change?
In our experience, many organisations commonly face the following three issues which impede the likelihood of successfully embedding organisational change.
1. Low staff morale
A common cause of low staff morale is change fatigue. Change fatigue was a concept that was coined in the 1990s but has recently been supplanted by the paradigm ‘change is the new constant’. It can lead to weariness, scepticism, and disengagement of staff.
Change fatigue can also be the result of the amount of work provided to employees, as well as an expectation of staff to adopt new working patterns, roles, skills, and behaviours. It can manifest itself around a transformation programme that has not been seen through to completion due to management leaving the firm, or a change programme being discarded to make way for the next programme. Consequently, staff become increasingly frustrated and employee morale declines.
How can organisations overcome this?
To overcome low staff morale, we recommend that organisations introduce systems to spot the early warning signs of change fatigue. For example, management needs to ensure that they actively listen to employees who are confused by any planned change, or if they feel weighted with a heavy workload because of an organisation’s change agenda.
It is also recommended that management consider the culture of the organisation and staff within before deciding upon which business change model and approach to adopt. They should consider the background and context of the change to help them decide how the organisation will sell the change programme to the workforce.
Management should also look to deploy an appropriate leadership style based on what the workforce needs, and provide staff recognition, emotional intelligence, and two-way communication. Research suggests these factors have the biggest effect on engagement and morale.
2. Poor communication and stakeholder interaction
Poor communication and stakeholder interaction often results in project failure. This can lead to a number of common issues, including:
A culture of distrust: Trust is absolutely critical to the success of an organisation. If an organisation’s goals and objectives are not communicated clearly to its employees, staff will be left feeling confused and trust will be diminished. Poor communication can also result in staff proclaiming an ‘us vs them’ mentality.
Poor staff engagement: If staff are not involved in a change programme, there will be negative ramifications when trying to embed change This can lead to lower levels of self-esteem, morale, and productivity. Staff typically rely on management teams to provide clear direction and guidance and if this is lacking, the divide between staff and management will increase.
Top-down messaging: Mixed messages from the top can cause confusion and result in varying interpretations of organisational goals and the tasks that follow. Naturally, chaos will ensue as staff carry out uncoordinated tasks and activities.
How can organisations overcome this? From the beginning, management needs to develop and deploy a communications strategy to enable effective communication and stakeholder engagement. The outcomes of doing so will enable the company to build strong working relationships with staff and create an honest and transparent working environment for the workforce. This could be through deploying the following:
Creating an open environment in which staff feel comfortable enough to share feedback and ideas.
Ensuring that communication is a two-way process and includes all levels of the organisation.
Publishing messages through a variety of channels to ensure that it is well received by all staff.
Repeating key messages to ensure that staff are clear on any actions they should take.
Actively listening to staff and addressing any concerns, observations, or feedback that they may have.
3. Conflicting business priorities
A conflict in business priorities is a common obstacle for organisations wanting to implement change. It can result in the following challenges:
Confusion, uncertainty, and ambiguity: With no clear direction or guidance, staff will find themselves lost and unsupported. Employees will be uncertain on which pieces of work they should prioritise and become inefficient and unproductive as a result.
Increased workload from balancing BAU work against programme priorities: This is one of the most common difficulties that organisations face when managing change. How do you make sure that BAU is maintained whilst ensuring that progress is being made to meet transformation programmes’ objectives? Staff can feel overwhelmed if they are trying to juggle various workloads and will consequently be left feeling overstretched. Trying to balance the two is key to working with individual staff on a one-to-one basis and agreeing on realistic expectations.
Lack of robust programme management and governance: Change projects will need the same clear and thoughtful governance as the organisation’s operations. Establishing change governance is fundamental for a change programme to be successful but planning for it is often rushed due to a need to push ahead with embedding the transformation. In our experience, a number of companies commonly fall at this hurdle and this has repercussions later on in the programme.
How can organisations overcome this?
From the outset, management should be crystal clear on the business priority. This needs to be communicated clearly from the top before sharing with the workforce to ensure that each individual understands their responsibilities.
Keeping the business running will take precedence, and there is a collective need for organisational understanding that this will have an implication for change programme teams who see their staff being pulled back into BAU roles.
Finally, it is important to celebrate individual and team achievements and acknowledge staff who are balancing conflicting business priorities.
In a nutshell
In an era of technological advancements where change is inevitable, organisations must constantly reinvent themselves to survive. The trick is to cultivate a flexible organisational mindset that will embrace change, now and in the future. This is easier said than done.
Some of the key challenges of embedding change requires leadership teams to actively work with staff to discuss the benefits of the change and why it is needed. It also requires a robust communication strategy and plan that is deployed, ensuring staff feedback is regularly collected and addressed. Finally, organisations should think carefully about balancing organisational priorities and recognising staff who support the company’s strategic goals.
The importance of recognising and understanding the key challenges of embedding change cannot be underestimated and is vital for organisations to address. As former CEO of GE, Jack Welch once said, “if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
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