Change Management and the Bottom Line

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1 from Workplace Advisory at Allsteel Change Management and the Bottom Line As the pace of workplace change accelerates to keep up with worker expectations, business evolution, technology, and the changing nature of work, the importance of implementing a change plan is critical. There are several factors underscoring this need: humans prefer familiar and stable, and therefore naturally resist new and different, even when it s better. Whether we re aware of it or not, most physical change is really about behavioral change which requires that we acknowledge and help workers to understand and perform the new way. Training may be needed to acquire these new skills. Understanding that change is hard for everyone, tackling the right questions, thoughtfully building the internal and external change team, building new capabilities and behaviors, and developing and executing a robust communication plan are all integral to a successful change strategy. Change in our lives is difficult, whether voluntary or not. The fear of the unknown forces us to speculate on what might happen; and in the absence of information, it s human nature to play out all of the possible negative outcomes. Apply that to the scale of a workplace change, and it s easy to imagine how quickly that absence of information can negatively impact employee productivity and morale. What compounds this issue is that workplace change may seem to be solely about physical things like smaller or lower workstations, or more shared, enclosed project spaces but it s also about encouraging new behaviors, changes in social norms and expectations about how things are going to happen around here. It s the underlying implications of the physical change that makes us skittish, especially if it s not acknowledged or discussable. planned and executed change strategy. The end result will bring the majority of workers along and encourage their understanding, and enable their transition to the new normal. This is where a change management strategy and communication plan can not only be effective in squelching rumors, and instead creating excitement and buzz around the new changes, but also explaining why things need to change, and what the new expectations and social norms will be. Let s be realistic, though not everyone in your organization is going to become positive about the changes at hand, no matter how much you communicate, coach, and prepare them. That should not deter an organization from employing a thoughtfully 1

2 Oftentimes, when we meet with a new client, we ask about any major workplace changes that have occurred in the recent past, and how they managed the transition. We re usually either met with a blank stare, or a knowing laugh. The reasons for not having actively managed the transition from the old to the new can include objective considerations like schedule or financial constraints and subjective considerations like attitudes around inclusion or fear of opening the Pandora s box of behavioral change and expectation setting. The hard costs associated with implementing a change strategy are easy to quantify, whereas the intangible costs associated with diminished engagement or even lost productivity are not, often leaving change planning and communication value-engineered out of the project. While this is understandable, it is short-sighted and can prove to be costly in the long-term if it adversely affects employee motivation and performance, or the redesign of workspaces is being perceived as ineffective. There are three driving factors that are paving the way for the argument in favor of including change strategy and communication plan as part of all projects. The expectations of today s workforce Citizens are demanding transparency in government (consider the recent media attention the NSA has received), and technology has enabled the power of one to be magnified via various social media channels. These social trends are making their way into the workplace, and as a result organizations will be expected to be transparent and focused on walking the talk not only externally, where the message historically could be managed, but internally as well. The companies that embrace this sea change and act on it to connect the dots between the physical change and new behavioral norms like more choice and control will reap the benefits of robust attraction and retention rates, in addition to an engaged workforce. The evolving business landscape Organizations are recognizing the need to align their workplaces with the rapidly-changing business landscape focusing on effectiveness, efficiency, agility, innovation, and community. The importance of keeping the workforce informed of how these macro trends are driving change in the workplace will continue to be underscored by the pace of change. 2

3 The changing nature of work Work is happening faster, anywhere, anytime. Teaching the workforce the linkages between their new workplace, how it can support the work that they do, and giving them permission to make some changes themselves will support future shifts in business, which are happening at a faster and faster rate. There are many people, tools, and processes involved in an effective change management program. Ideally, the process begins before the first time employees catch wind that a workplace change is on the horizon, and continues well after the last box is unpacked. Getting the workforce (or at least the majority) behind the changes at hand requires a thoughtful approach to the following questions: What is changing? Identify where the organization is today in contrast to where it will be after the workplace change, considering changes to the physical environment, technologies, business processes, and behavioral and social norms. This will bring to light the gaps in between, and will give the change team the framework to identify what they ll need to accomplish to bridge those gaps. Why are these changes occurring? What internal and external forces are driving these changes? What business goals speed to market, reduced costs, improved retention must be achieved and are in turn driving changes to the workplace and the way work is done? And what data is available that supports the need for these changes? How can we improve/ensure buy in? Organizations often overlook the importance of selling the change internally and tying it to changes in behavioral and social norms. They make the mistake of assuming that if it s good for the company, then people will get it and get on board. Or that it s just physical and if we build it, they will come. A change program will be more successful if organizations think of it from the voice of the customer viewpoint, with the employees playing the role of customer. What s in it for them? How will it impact their work? How will they benefit? What has to change, and how will they be successful in the new ways or working? A compelling story must be crafted to get buy-in. But be honest and do not make it one-sided, employees are too smart to believe a change is being made simply to benefit them. Who will best represent the change effort throughout the organization? Although having an executive sponsor is an important factor, this is less a question of hierarchy and more of social capital. Think about the people in the organization who have the hearts and minds of their peers, and who are both willing to champion the change in expectations and model the new behaviors. Recruit them as part of the change team. What other changes in behavior are expected as a result of the change? Many new programs have far-reaching implications for not just worker behaviors, but also their manager s. Implementing a mobility program which allows individuals to work remotely will not make mobile work successful, for example. Managers will need to manage their teams differently, mobile workers will need to communicate differently, and everyone will need to use new tools and technology. An effective change program will identify these desired behaviors and the gaps in skills and comfort with technology, and provide the tools, training, and development to support them. 3

4 How are we going to get there? Develop a timeline of change activities, utilizing a variety of activities and media that are appropriate to the organizations unique culture. Consider the audience of each activity, and recognize that training, coaching, or messaging may need to be nuanced depending on who is receiving it (again, think what s in it for them? ). This is a great time to be creative about the way workers and their managers are engaged, and be flexible in the course taken if certain communications or activities are working better or worse than others, it is important that the change team has the flexibility to make course corrections. How will success be measured? Discuss this from the start and think about how these goals could be measured before and after the project to provide positive data for the change effort. Otherwise, the successes will be anecdotal and not easily measurable. For example, if one of the business goals is to decrease product development cycle time by collaborating more, determine the typical length of the cycle before the change and again six to twelve months after move-in. This will give you the data you need to determine if additional changes need to be made to support the goals of the business. Conclusion Last but not least, communicate, communicate, communicate! Remember, the goal is to maximize transparency and minimize loss of productivity. In a vacuum of information, it is human nature to assume the worst. If employees are busy telling themselves stories about how bad things are going to be, then it is reasonable to assume that they are not actively engaged and performing at their best. These can be challenging questions to answer, particularly if an organization has never considered them. However, with the ongoing effective and efficient utilization of this significant asset in play coupled with the rapid pace of change impacting both work and the work force focusing on these questions can result in tangible benefits. And although it is difficult to assign a cost to this, it will become increasingly clear that companies can t afford NOT to develop and execute a workplace change strategy. 4

5 References Workplace Advisory at Allsteel Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations by John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen, The Irrational Side of Change Management by Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller, The McKinsey Quarterly, 2009 Number 2. The Workplace Advisory team listens. And we apply research and our extensive workplace experiences and insights to assist organizations develop and implement a situationally appropriate workplace strategy: one that aligns with their organizational culture and business goals, supports their workers ability to work effectively, utilizes their real estate assets as efficiently as possible, and is highly adaptable to changing business and work practice requirements. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge, INSIGHT from Allsteel The INSIGHT mark identifies material papers, presentations, courses created specifically by the Workplace Advisory team to illustrate our workplace strategy knowledge and perspective. Additional INSIGHT material may be found at allsteeloffice.com. About the Author Amy Hill is a member of the Workplace Advisory team at Allsteel. She gravitated to the emerging profession of workplace strategy to understand, uncover and enable the levers of high performance and their impact on people whether they re spatial, wellness-based, interpersonal, or social. Currently living in Los Angeles, Amy is a member of the CoreNet Southern California Chapter. She regularly attends CoreNet Global and WORKTECH conferences, and tracks various online workplace groups to stay abreast of the latest workplace knowledge and trends adding to the rich interactions with clients that remain her primary source of insights and experience. Allsteel Inc. Muscatine, Iowa Allsteel Inc. Allsteel is a registered trademark. allsteeloffice.com (08/14)

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