How to get employees on board your new strategic plan
Many of our clients emerge from their strategic planning exercise with two or three major projects that need to be implemented over one to three years. Perhaps they plan to implement a new management system, or adopt a new online marketing strategy, or take on a key operational efficiency initiative.
While some clients have a clear idea of how to achieve this with their employees, others struggle with managing change while keeping their team motivated and engaged.
In this blog post, I’ll provide a few tips on managing change using the example of Company S, a custom software development company that wants to implement a new project management process.
Meet Company S
Although Company S’s project managers were dedicated and working long hours, projects were falling behind for three reasons.
- They had not adopted a unified project management methodology, so each project manager was doing their own thing.
- Resource allocation to the various projects was inefficient and cost management was out of control.
- Project managers were making decisions while unaware of business considerations in customer contracts, such as penalty clauses or completion bonuses.
Company S decided to hire a consultant to help solve these issues by implementing a new project management system and training their project managers.
The company was worried that its managers would resist these new changes; it wanted to ensure the success of the upcoming transformation with a solid plan for handling resistance to change.
Here are a few recommendations on change management we would give to this company and others in the same circumstances.
The success of any key change management project is to create a sense of urgency and to motivate employees at all levels to participate and accept the change.
Start with the WHY
As human beings we all resist change to differing degrees. Explaining and communicating why a project is undertaken goes beyond an all-hands meeting to launch the project. It requires communication at all levels of the organization to be consistent.
Explain why the project is important
Managers must highlight how the changes will benefit employees as well as solve some of their current pain points.
Here are some examples of messages that Company S might give to address its employees’ concerns and convince them to buy in.
- “Everyone is exhausted from working overtime. This new approach will help us save time.”
- “We are currently at risk to lose contracts to competitors because we are behind by three months on our projects.
- Reducing efforts on repetitive tasks will allow us to focus on the more motivating parts of our jobs!”
- “We can improve profitability by being more efficient, which allows us to upgrade our tools and systems.”
Highlight key benefits of the change for employees
Company S might also give these messages to inspire employees.
- “We will pay for our project managers and all team mangers to become certified in Agile, as a way to develop their project management skills.”
- “Becoming more efficient will relieve workload pressure on all employees. For instance, we can reduce overtime by creating a library of reusable code.”
- “By changing our process, we will eliminate the need to find a new hire and reduce stress for the team.”
Of course, these messages must accompany a proper explanation of how the project will unfold and the specific activities that will need to be completed to implement the new project management system.
Communicate consistently at all levels and address all concerns
The senior management team at Company S would need to define the key messages and agree that they would be repeated in all formal and informal meetings.
Each leader would then cascade these general messages down to their teams along with specific explanations of how the project will impact their work and how they will contribute to the change effort. Many one-on-one conversations with affected employees will also be necessary to explain their specific role in the project, how they will benefit and how the company will help them develop new skills to adapt.
Listening to your employees and addressing their concerns is critical
Finally, a great way to motivate and engage people is to develop an informal group of project champions; people who strongly believe in the project from the get-go. This group of champions can be very effective in talking to people who are resisting the change by talking to them on an informal basis, and not as their boss.
Empower your people
A key contributing factor to successfully manage change is to empower your people by getting them involved in shaping the project and voicing their ideas. A major mistake is to decide everything at the senior management level and then just roll it out. If employees can contribute, they’ll be more motivated to accept the change!
Ideally, the project implementation structure would allow for regular check-ins with affected groups and put their feedback into the decision-making loop.
At Company S, the project managers and department managers formed a discussion group to follow the project and contribute suggestions on how to implement the changes.
Achieve and celebrate quick wins
One of the most important hallmarks of successful change management is achieving quick wins. In the case of Company S, it will take a long time to implement the full project management process. However, by tracking project profitability and celebrating when the projects turn the corner will motivate employees who are working hard to get results.
Many entrepreneurs do not want to share detailed financial information with their teams, but no employee wants to work on projects that are not profitable. They need to be given the information they need to make the right decisions. Communicating profitability or other success milestones is critical to building momentum.
Celebrating quick wins and the achievement of key milestones is equally important.
Celebrations also give everyone a sense of accomplishment. Praising specific employees for their achievements and contributions to the success of the project during these celebrations also builds pride and ownership for project results.
Company S made two major decisions: the first is to put a poster on the wall where everyone can see it and tick off key project milestones as they happen. The second is to set up regular Pizza Fridays. Having lunch (virtual or in-person) together on a Friday allows everyone to relax, share their excitement and feel that the project is moving in the right direction.
Have a plan for resistance to change
After putting in the changes, everything seemed to be running smoothly for Company S. However, a few employees aired concerns that they couldn’t get used to the new project management software and they preferred to go back to the old way of doing things. One senior engineer refused to use it entirely.
Company S was caught off guard because they didn’t prepare for resistance ahead of time. The change effort could be jeopardized partially or completely without a plan to deal with resistance.
A better way to deal with this situation is to identify which individuals or groups will actively resist change and put together a plan with the following points in mind.
There are four main ways of dealing with active (or passive) resistance to change.
1) Educate employees on the reasons for change
Go back to the key messages mentioned at the beginning of this blog post and make sure that they are well understood. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
2) Involve the detractors in the change effort
Put a person who resists in a working group discussing the changes. For more senior people, put detractors in charge of some aspect of the change, for example:
- deploying the project management certification program
- leading the team defining the new operational structure
- getting recommendations on the new resource allocation system
If they get involved in shaping the change, they are more likely to truly adopt the final changes.
3) Provide coaching and support
Some people may struggle to cope with the change, even if they know it is a good thing to do. They may be anxious about their ability to acquire new skills or adapt to the new process. Human resource professionals should be available to support these people and discuss their concerns.
4) Lead with empathy and tolerate mistakes
Many leaders show their impatience with employees who do not immediately embrace change. This is the kiss of death. Employees will feel judged and blamed for the lack of success and will potentially dig in their heels. Leaders need to engage in conversations in an open way to understand the perspective of their employees. With time, empathy, and support, most will adapt.
A strategic plan is a change management plan
In the end, senior managers will be successful in implementing strategic initiatives if they have a plan for dealing with resistance to change and their employees understand why the change is important. They need to know how they will benefit from the change, which means they need consistent and regular communications and support from all the senior people. Keep your employees empowered and proud about achieving regular milestones, and your strategic planning process will likely succeed.