Many business leaders have been challenged to manage the significant impact of external and internal changes on their organizations — and so have their employees. Enterprise-wide changes can leave employees with uncertain working environments, new daily routines and turnover that can increase workload or trigger unanticipated changes.
“When we think of large-scale change, we think of examples like technology implementations, acquisitions and restructuring. These can really change day-to-day work in a major way,” said Grant Thornton Business Change Enablement Leader Jen Morelli.
“However, we also need to factor in the smaller things that impact our employees, our teams and our organizations, it’s things like new leaders or new teammates,” Morelli said. “It can feel like a million little paper cuts. Those little changes, along with the big changes an organization is going through, take a toll on our employees and our organizations. When change is not managed appropriately, people get tired of changing.”
The amount, frequency and impact of changes can leave employees feeling a sense of change saturation. That can lead to a range of business impacts.
Change saturation impacts
When employees feel overwhelmed with change, an organization can struggle with:
- adoption and ROI for any new change initiatives
- performance and overall productivity
During a recent Grant Thornton webinar for change leaders, more than 700 respondents indicated that employee retention and returning to the office or hybrid work environment are the top change trends facing their organizations.
Employee turnover is costly and time-consuming, often creating more change and work for other employees. The logistics and complications of managing new work environments can be another taxing drain on resources.
To overcome the risks of change saturation, organizations need skilled change management and change leadership. More than ever, change leaders need to help influence workers, inspire action and provide the vision to drive growth during times of uncertainty.
Change requires leadership
Organizations need to recognize that employees may feel overwhelmed. To keep them on track to driving the organization’s strategy and growth, change leaders and internal change teams need to help reduce the sense of change saturation.
Real change in your organization depends on how well the voices and perspectives of your people are integrated into each specific change initiative. Organizational change management (OCM) teams need to work with leaders and employees to understand an organization’s unique ways of driving successful engagement and adoption.
While each organization is unique, there are seven core factors for a successful OCM initiative:
- Clearly articulated business case with vision, objectives, purpose, benefits and goals
- Aligned, active and visible sponsorship
- Connection to corporate strategy, culture and values
- Targeted stakeholder engagement and tailored communications
- Assessment and monitoring of change impacts
- Understanding and continual measurement of change readiness
- Comprehensive education development and delivery
“Often, we’re asking employees to think differently, behave differently and interact in a different way,” Morelli said. “So, it’s important to think about these changes from the lens of an impacted individual as we communicate, engage and prepare individuals to adopt the necessary changes.”
“Are you tying things together, so they feel like they are part of something bigger, and that they are operating in a seamless environment — not just a bunch of disconnected, disparate changes?”
Grant Thornton Business Change Enablement Principal Sondra Leibner said that leaders need to establish transparent communication, both to and from employees. Leaders also need to understand how well their organizations are managed, and appreciate the fact that employees have more choice than ever in where and how they work.
“People leave managers. They don’t leave jobs,” Leibner said.
Leibner said that engagement and trust-building through communication and transparency can help soften the impacts of constant change, even encouraging employees to help drive change and become part of an organizational team.
“Are you tying things together, so they feel like they are part of something bigger, and that they are operating in a seamless environment — not just a bunch of disconnected, disparate changes?” Leibner asked.
When employees feel informed and engaged, they are more likely to take ownership of change and help to drive its success. Change leaders should help ensure that organizational communications are helping to foster engagement.
Companies can have far greater success with change when they link it to the organization’s strategy and mission. When that happens, change becomes a vehicle to reinforce workplace culture. If changes are inconsistent with the mission and the company’s identity, however, people sense an immediate disconnect.
Make time to make connections
Change leaders are in a unique position, both impacted by change and helping others navigate it, Morelli said. That makes it important to give leaders time to go through their own change process, fully understanding changes so they can be the best leaders possible and help others grasp the importance. Change leadership requires employees to understand a change and recognize its value. If leaders don’t grasp the value, neither will their employees.
Leaders and others with influence need to help employees see the link between strategy and change. Since change takes time, leaders must build in time to have the conversations needed to communicate transparently and authentically. Leaders need to be empathetic and seek to understand employee perspective and bake in opportunities for feedback, while communicating that not changing is unacceptable.
An investment in change management has been shown to drive solution adoption and yield other long-term rewards. “The more success an organization has in one change, the better chance that you will have success for the next change,” said Morelli. “It’s really important to think about what we are doing to focus on our people, our leaders and our customers during these times of change.”
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