Making Change With Employees, Not To Them

Making Change With Employees, Not To Them

Trust: The Key to Successful Organizational Change

The ability to change is a vital skill for organizations, especially now. Nothing in business is constant anymore, except that everything is changing...all the time. And yet, the statistics on an organization's changes not meeting the stated goals is quite staggering. Research by organizations including McKinsey, Gallup, and The Ken Blanchard Companies report that 70% of all change initiatives fail to reach their intended goals.

It's a commonly-held belief that change is inevitable:

"Change before you have to." – Jack Welch

"It is likely that everyone knows that change is coming to a workplace near him or her." – Scott Anthony, Constant Transformation Is the New Normal

So why is there a constant drumbeat of missteps, miscommunication and missed targets in times of change? The simple answer is trust—or a lack thereof.

Trust is at the heart of every great company and is the secret sauce of what enables those companies to continue to be wildly successful. In fact, recent studies have also shown a critical connection between organizational change and trust. The fundamental requirements for any person to be willing to go along with, participate in and potentially champion a transition in their lives are that they:

  1. Trust the person (in this case, management) convincing them of the change
  2. Trust the change process itself

Trust in Management: Leading Employees through Change

There is almost nothing more important to successful organizational change than whether or not employees actually believe their managers are trustworthy. This is because all successful change starts with belief that the person suggesting or leading the change has your best interests in mind.

"Trust is a measure of the quality of a relationship—between two people, between groups of people, or between a person and an organization. In totally predictable situations the question of trust doesn't arise: When you know exactly what to expect, there's no need to make a judgment call." - Robert F. Hurley

Trust in management during times of change requires that employees feel as if:

  • They are being listened to with regards to the change
  • Their management has always or has regularly had their best interests in mind
  • Their jobs will be better because of the change (even if that doesn't happen right away)
  • For the most part, they will continue to make the same difference and impact the organization in the same way.

The high-trust companies that we work with at Great Place To Work® tend to show a high capacity for resilience in the face of change, and this is no surprise. At these companies, employees trust their leaders. For example, at the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For in America:

  • 82% of employees believe management delivers on its promises, and its actions match its words;
  • 82% of employees believe management keeps them informed of important issues and changes;
  • 91% of employees believe management is honest and ethical in their business practices.

High levels of trust across the company not only enable leaders to take the actions needed to navigate change, but ensure that employees can continue being productive and positive during the change process.

Trust in the Process: Involve Employees in the Change

If people believe that their management is trustworthy, the next critical hurdle is whether the change process itself inspires trust. The critical ingredient here is involving those people being impacted by the change. Resistance to change most often comes when people feel the change is being done "to them" or "in spite of them."

As an example, an organization I worked with had particularly bad attrition in their IT department. The senior leadership tried a number of different tactics to reverse the trend—extra money, more time off, better perks, and more. Nothing seemed to work. However, when the IT group was asked their opinion about what was going on and involved in developing programs, policies and initiatives, the horrendous attrition turned around. It dropped from nearly 54% to 13% in a matter of months.

It's very important to involve the people that will be impacted on the development and implementation of the change solution. This will give them ownership of the issues, teach them about how to manage the change and create champions from within that group. It's likely that there will be much less resistance to the change if people within the impact group are creating the solution.

How have the levels of trust in your organization affected change initiatives? What have you as a leader done to build or break trust in the change management process?

All leaders have room to grow in this area, as trust-building is an endless process. The first step is to understand the important role trust plays. Change happening to someone results in resistance. Change happening with someone creates results.

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