When you have a vision of the future — one you know can revolutionize your organization — it’s easy to want to charge ahead with your new strategy. And if anyone doesn’t agree with you? Well, they just don’t understand. But transformative organizational change isn’t an overnight process. Trying to force it through too quickly can easily alienate your audience, and your vision will be dead in the water.
Consider what happens when you try to make a personal change. When implementing new habits, is it more effective to change everything at once: a healthy diet, daily exercise, and three new hobbies? Or is this more likely to cause overwhelming change fatigue, leading you to drop these healthy habits as quickly as you picked them up?
In an organization with thousands of employees and countless moving parts, it’s not as easy to sense this burnout. The consequences are higher too. You could lose employees, revenue, and morale. The problem is rarely a lack of desire to change, but instead a lack of direction. People first need to understand how.
So how can you be sure that you’re implementing change at a pace that isn’t burning your teams out and ensures they understand the how? Just try to CLAP: Communicate, Listen, Adjust, and Praise.
Organizational change experts have evangelized the benefits of clear communication for decades. But much of this advice is only focused on what to say, not how to say it. If you need to communicate clearly, is it better to give your employees something that looks like Moby Dick or Dr. Seuss?
Your employees have many things to think about every day. If your change effort relies on your teams coming together around a shared vision, you need to make this vision easy to absorb and quick to understand. Instead of presentations with hundreds of slides or hours-long workshops with book-length manuals, use visual roadmaps to communicate the transition and how each of your teams fit into it. Visual information is more easily absorbed, and roadmaps are easy to consult over and over throughout the change, providing a handy tool to keep your teams aligned.
As a leader in your organization, you may feel like the owner of this transformational change. But real change happens in the minds and actions of your people. The individuals on the ground who have to make the choice every day to do things the old way or try it the new. So if you want to know if your change effort is working, you need to listen to your people.
The trouble is, many employees are unwilling to be truthful with the higher-ups when asked direct questions about change initiatives. They don’t want to be seen as the squeaky wheel. To combat this, avoid formal listening sessions. Avoid automated email surveys. These are surefire ways to collect useless data. Instead, focus on 1-on-1 feedback. Choose a handful of individuals from different parts of your organization and incentivize them give honest feedback. Ensure them their feedback won’t negatively impact their standing in the company.
Listening can be a double-edged sword. Sure, your employees will be annoyed if you don’t listen to them. But they’ll be even more annoyed if you do listen, and then don’t do anything to address their concerns. For your transformational change efforts to be successful, you need to do more than just listen. You have to take the feedback into account and tailor your plan where it makes sense. This isn’t just about refining and getting change right. It’s about creating an atmosphere of collaborative change.
If your people feel like their input has impact, they’ll be more likely to share input in the future, allowing you to iterate more quickly and get to something that works. It can also allow you to implement more change than you would otherwise be able to. When you have the goodwill of your organization, you will meet less resistance in the long run.
While it may sound frivolous, praising your employees for moving the change forward is key to ensuring the change sticks. Typically, employees see organizational change as something enforced on them from the top down. They’re told it’s good for the organization, but they don’t feel like it’s good for them. And the more they feel as if they’re doing something for the “good of the organization” without feeling like they’re getting anything in return, the more likely they are to give up the change and go back to what they’re used to.
By praising and rewarding your employees for championing the change — not just at the end of the effort, but throughout the process — you can transform your change effort from a top-down initiative to a collaborative one. Creating a culture of collaboration makes them feel excited about the change because they’re a key part of it, they know what it’s for, and they have the ability to effect it.
Creating lasting transformational change in your organization can feel like an impossible task, one that requires secret knowledge to achieve. But often, the special ingredient is much more human. Your people are the champions of your change effort, and lasting organizational change lives and dies on their enthusiasm. To ensure buy-in, you don’t have to find a magic spell. Simply communicate clearly with your people, listen to their honest feedback, take their thoughts and feelings into account, and celebrate their hard work.