Engaging Employees in Organizational Change: How to Foster Ownership & Avoid Resistance.

employee engagement change management

“Resistance is proportional to the size and speed of the change, not to whether the change is a favorable or unfavorable one.” ~ George Leonard

Said differently, the more you change all at once, the greater the likelihood is that you’ll fail. This is something to keep in mind if you’re trying to implement personal change in your own life (like losing weight or creating healthy habits), but what about organizations that need to transform rapidly in order to stay relevant in an evolving market or require massive infrastructure changes for greater scalability?


communicating change

Implementing change, sometimes a lot all at once is necessary to stay competitive.  So how do you communicate change under these circumstances and avoid resistance?

Very carefully.

Engaging your audience with a comms strategy that invokes trust, personal accountability and interest will go a long way to executing organizational change quickly and effectively. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    • Be crystal clear about why your current path isn’t working and what the proposed end-state will look like. This means answering two questions right up front: why we need to change and what will happen to us if we don’t. That message defines the “why”  behind the change initiative, shapes the narrative for communication and drives the call to action for everyone who needs to make it happen.
    • Have high-level sponsors driving the change, but don’t assume that person(s) should also be a spokesperson for it. Not all leaders are effective change-agents or dynamic enough to garner attention and trust. Chose a spokesperson that’s well respected, closer to the impacted groups organizationally, and has a personality that can sustain attention over a long period of time. Dry, corporate-speak is what you want to avoid. Humor, relatability and familiarity are what you’re looking for in an effective spokesperson.
    • Communicate calls to action through middle management. Employees have a greater sense of accountability to their managers and are more likely to take action on their requests rather than a company-wide memo, so ensure there’s a thoughtful cascade of actions that come from the appropriate person.
    • Leverage two-way communications as much as possible. Having a knowledge base where employees can go for info is a must, but providing a channel for asking questions, providing feedback and raising issues will accelerate problem-solving by providing a much greater line-of-sight into unforeseen impacts and creative solutions.
    • Communicate often and openly. Set a cadence and stick to it. Whether that’s weekly updates or a quarterly review, your employees should come to expect regular updates. When communications become infrequent or inconsistent, the initiative is out of sight and out of mind. Work as transparently as possible, providing insight into what’s going well and what’s not. Invite opportunity for feedback and creative solutions to complex issues. Bottom line – don’t assume your employees are thinking about organizational change unless they are personally impacted in a significant way. Most people are focused on what’s in front of them.
    • Be creative. Use video, infographics, podcasts and blogs to share stories and provide progress. Commit not just to educating your audience, but to entertaining them as well. It will make your messages stickier and anticipated.

Resistance arises when pressure is applied.  Pressure in the form of too many one-way, static communications that get largely ignored until they’re strongly enforced is not ideal.  If you can take a collaborative, open approach from the start, you invite your employees to be part of the process of change and empower them to take ownership of the outcome.

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