Back

StrategySep 20, 2019

The Importance of Empathy in Transformational Change

Joe Pfeifer, and Molly Legband

People are the key factor when it comes to a successful business transformation. But do you know the secret ingredient to successfully engaging stakeholders throughout the entire transformation? Empathy!

Empathy requires understanding and a willingness to see situations from another person’s perspective. Conducting transformational change with your stakeholders can be more challenging than it sounds, but at Credera we believe empathy is crucial to successfully implement a people-first approach to benefits realization.

A people-first approach to transformational change is exactly what it sounds like. It’s choosing to see your employees as active participants in the change and prioritizing their needs and perspectives when conducting operational change. In order to do this, you must understand the fears, hesitancies, and anticipations of your employees.

3 key elements to empathetic transformational change

There are three key elements to practicing empathy when guiding your company through change: identifying who your stakeholders are, listening to your stakeholders, and communicating empathetically.

1. identify your stakeholders

You are perhaps the most aware of the change that is occurring. Identify teams/groups/departments within the organization that will be impacted, both directly and indirectly. As you identify stakeholder groups, do not try to assume their position or perspectives. Many people have an unrealistic view of their level of empathy, assuming they have a better gauge of other people’s feelings than they actually do. Empathy is understanding, not conjecture, and it requires time. Leverage change champions (HR, department heads, etc.) to review your stakeholder groups and assist with filling in gaps.

For example, when guiding one of the world’s largest biotech companies through organizational change, we received a list of key stakeholders from the project sponsor. We then gathered a group of change champions to review our list, adjusting the roles our stakeholders may play in the change and identifying anyone missing. Once we had come to a holistic understanding of who the change would impact, we began to meet with them regularly to continue our initial momentum.

2. listen to your stakeholders

Walk the halls every day. Notice how people are spending their time, listen to what they’re talking about, and stop to ask them candid questions. This is a non-intimidating way to gain honest opinions from your employees/stakeholders. For example, if you see someone working on the current expense-reporting system that is about to change, stop and ask them how they like it, how often they use it, and what issues they have with the system. Identify champions of each stakeholder group to interview—these should be people who understand the group and are willing to honestly speak on their behalf.

Along with the champions you identify, consider who the potential “blockers” could be. Are there members with high influence in the organization who are not convinced or engaged yet? Remember that successfully guiding a business transformation requires proactive listening and empathy. Once you identify some of the critical concerns of these stakeholders, determine the best way to address them head-on. You do not have to completely redesign the transformation based on this feedback, but tackling the highest priority concerns through enhancements, process adjustments, and additional training demonstrates that this feedback is valued. If given appropriate attention and care, opposed stakeholders can become the strongest and most convincing champions in the long run.

This is a critical part of our benefits realization approach. Ben E. Keith Foods, a Credera client, launched a new web and mobile platform for better serving its customers. They created a pilot program to gather feedback from the staff and address concerns early on. This gave opportunity for honest discussions, improvements, and adjustments to make the best application for the company that served both customers and employees.

3. communicate empathetically

Tell your stakeholders what they can expect with the change, both the benefits and the perceived negatives. Keep them involved in the change by creating avenues for feedback prior to, during, and after the change has been implemented, such as surveys, town halls, and open office hours. For example, Backcountry.com, an online retailer of outdoors gear, partnered with Credera to optimize their mobile experience. Credera provided a week-long, hands-on training for their mobile development team to help transition them to a responsive design with server-side components (RESS). This was followed by job aids and documentation of best practices, standards, processes, and development methodologies. This personalized training engaged the employees individually to provide the guidance and help they needed to maneuver the change successfully.

Actively address concerns head on. Do not ignore their existence—this breaches trust with your employees and implies that you do not understand their position. Demonstrate humility and responsibility. Creating an environment of open feedback and a willingness to listen is extremely powerful and will ultimately allow you to have a more accurate understanding of your stakeholders’ perspectives. Own your responsibility over the change and express why it is occurring. No one wants to follow a leader who shifts blame or pretends to be distraught over the change they are championing.

Empathy is not passive and requires intentional time investment. You must fully buy into the importance of empathetic benefits realization for it to be successfully implemented. Taking the time and planning to gain understanding and communicate accordingly may feel painstaking and rather fruitless in the moment. However, channeling an empathetic approach is required in order to:

  • Increase likelihood of achieving the desired return on the investment.

  • Improve employee morale and productivity.

  • Create smoother business transitions.

empathy is the way forward

Empathy is an avenue to further your business and develop your employees, especially during times of operational change. Leveraging the insights above and, as needed, the experience of a qualified professional services firm such as Credera can assist you with achieving the best results. Reach out to us at findoutmore@credera.com to find out more!