Here is a troubling fact directly impacting the success of change: The people most affected by changes in their organization are not asked what they think will work best to achieve what the organization needs. Many leaders don’t consider asking for input from target group stakeholders when designing or implementing changes.
Why is this? Some common assumptions that keep leaders from including their stakeholders include:
- “Employee engagement takes too much time.”
- “It will look like the leaders don’t have the answers” (as all leaders should, right?!).
- “I already have the answer, so why ask?”
- “If I ask people, I will have to do what they want.”
These are all faulty assumptions. Experience clearly demonstrates that if you listen to people’s ideas, you automatically increase their interest and level of commitment. This does not mean that you must agree with or implement their ideas; it simply means their ideas are considered.
The Power of Asking for Input
There is logic and intelligence in giving your people a say in shaping their future. Asking for input on the design or plan for a change initiative helps change happen successfully and more quickly. When people have a stake in the solution, they are naturally committed to getting it implemented.
You are not asking for permission to make a change, rather you are inviting participation. Begin by creating the context and providing rationale for the change.
Ask the appropriate people:
- What they think success in a new scenario looks like.
- For their ideas on the requirements that a new solution must accommodate to work most effectively.
- What they think the real breakdown and breakthrough issues are.
- For their best solutions and advice, including what they think you don’t yet see that makes a difference in being successful.
As an example, when IT experts design and implement an IT solution and fail to ask the users for their requirements in advance, the outcome is more likely to fail and cause upset with the stakeholders. While IT expertise is essential to a successful solution, the users should also be asked to determine and finetune its function and requirements “on the ground.” Consider that the IT product design, when being implemented, may cause disruption in how people work, relate, and share information. Without these considerations, the solution may not be adopted. Users’ needs must be determined (by them!) and be kept in mind for a successful design and deployment.
When to Engage Your Stakeholders
Stakeholder engagement is particularly important early in the change process, not just after the design phase is complete. Early participation from stakeholders helps:
- Shape the case for change.
- Define a vision and desired outcomes.
- Determine customer requirements.
- Design an effective solution.
- Minimize emotional upset in staff.
- Identify the behavioral and cultural requirements for adoption.
- Maximize a smooth implementation.
Stakeholder Engagement Strategies
Many leaders do not use engagement because they do not know how to do it efficiently. To them, engaging stakeholders adds chaos, time, and cost. Many make the mistake of assuming they have engaged people by gathering them in the auditorium, announcing the change, and asking if there are any questions (typically with no response). This is not engagement; nor is it good communications!
Fortunately, there are many types of engagement and many vehicles to choose from. Your choice should be dependent on the change activity you are planning for. You can engage individuals, small groups, and large groups. You would need to select your sources of input based on who would have the best information and ideas. Consider who you might ask to input to the case for change, design requirements for the best solution, impacts of the preferred solution, and indicators for course correction.
Numerous large group meeting methodologies have emerged over the past decade, such as:
- Open Space Technology.
- Real Time Strategic Change.
- Future Search.
- World café.
At Being First, we often use a hybrid of these as the situation dictates. The key to effectively using these engagement practices is to determine in advance the task requiring input, whom to engage, and what you will do with the input you receive. Make sure to communicate to your stakeholders your intentions for using the information they offer so they understand the “rules of the game” in advance.
Change Communication Strategy: Beyond the “Talking Head”
All engagement strategies require good communication. Most executives have become aware of this, however, many still use predominantly one-way strategies such as memos, newsletters, speeches, presentations, videos, or informational websites. These are all “tell” strategies where leaders inform the organization. Relying on “outside-in” methods will have limited success.
Some change initiatives may cause people to become more emotional. The more emotional people may become due to the content of a change, the more communication methods need to be two-way, and ideally, face-to-face. How to communicate change? Effective change communication entails much more than providing information in a “tell” fashion. It requires creating vehicles for people to react to and internalize what they have heard.
They must have the opportunity to:
- Discuss or internalize what it means to them.
- Assess the implications on them and the organization.
- Ask questions and get answers.
- Discuss implications of the initiative with co-workers, and then go back to leaders with new questions.
- Think things over privately.
Leaders must genuinely listen during this process. Only when people have settled in with their perceptions of the impact on them personally will they be able to commit and act in clear and aligned ways, motivated from the inside, not just from the outside. This is accelerated when employees feel they have been heard and considered.
Effective change communication is best supported by sound engagement strategies, thus our recommendation to partner these two issues. Good change communication requires stakeholder engagement, and engagement can only succeed when participants are fully informed and aligned.