Appirio is a Salesforce consulting partner that helps companies leverage cloud technology to create next-generation customer experiences.
“If there was ever a time in the world right now that needed change management, this is it. We are all navigating a crisis of trust.”
Carol Fitzgerald Tyler, global head of Organizational Change Management at Appirio, mentions the emotional toll 2020 has taken on people across both their personal and professional lives, as a wake-up call for many business leaders. “With so much of our daily lives and sense of security centered around our jobs and livelihood, it’s never been more important for business leaders to lead with empathy and trust.”
We see the relationship between change leaders, workplace trust, and organizational resiliency echoed by management theorist Simon Sinek, who, in his 2014 TED Talk, Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, discusses how great leaders make their people feel safe and draw their people into a circle of trust.
When applied to business, it’s leaders who establish trust with their employees, and inspire their people to work toward a better shared future, who reap the rewards of an engaged workforce, especially in times of crisis. A recent Gallup study confirms employees who have a negative outlook on the future or distrust their employer are less likely to thrive during a crisis.
As leaders guide their workforces through uncertain times, Fitzgerald Tyler suggests they prioritize people and build a culture of trust and resiliency to thrive through any change event. Here are seven ways to do it.
1. Articulate a shared vision for change
When undertaking any sort of change event, the first step in establishing workplace buy-in and trust is convincing a workforce your vision for change (or your strategy for approaching an external force of change) is the correct one — maybe not an easy or a painless vision, but one that will ultimately benefit the greatest good.
A leader should articulate the vision for the change, spell out the business goals, and the principles they’ll use to achieve those goals. Fitzgerald Tyler believes, “really good and effective change embeds itself from the very beginning of a program to the very end.”
Whether communication happens via a virtual town hall or an email message to all employees, it’s important to get as granular as possible. Your employees need to understand why the change is important and how it may affect their role. Remember, leaders should reduce uncertainty from the start to create positive buy-in.
Ask yourself the following questions and use the answers to craft your vision:
- What are we trying to achieve, exactly?
- What methods will we use to get there?
- How am I, as a leader, going to stand by you and support you through this change?
2. Activate change champions across the company
Change is not a one-person job. Successful change has a cascading effect across an organization and must be approached with a team mindset.
As Fitzgerald Tyler explains, “a significant first step is to create a change champion network. This could be a group of individual executive sponsors or an executive coalition that spans different levels and functions.” Whatever the form, these change champions must support the core function: ensure the vision for change isn’t just heard, but that it resonates, across every corner of the business.
These change advocates communicate a vision, and also operate as “subject matter experts” for the change, dealing with people’s queries and concerns, documenting risks, and providing feedback to higher levels within the organization.
3. Get personal by assessing change readiness across the organization
Change is hard; it’s emotional — and everyone approaches change differently. Assessing how your stakeholders approach change is important for creating an empathetic change strategy that meets employees where they are. A survey for frontline staff, managers, and even senior leaders is a great way to identify the current attitudes to change so you can make a plan to manage resistance. Here are some questions you might ask:
- Have you experienced organizational change, either at this company or a previous employer, that made you feel disengaged, fearful, or distrustful? (Examples of change include anything from a company reorg to a new technology system rolled out across your department.)
- What were the actions the company took that made you feel disengaged, fearful, or distrustful?
- Conversely, if you have experienced change that was managed really well, what can the company learn from that?
Then, wrap consolidated takeaways into change management plans so that they can be tracked and stay top-of-mind throughout the program’s timeline.
4. Practice empathy
In most cases empathy is a skill and a mindset that must be adopted and learned. Leaders must strengthen empathy muscles to ensure we listen more than speak, and that we seek first to understand and then be understood.
The practice of empathy also acknowledges the fear most of us face during this pandemic. The question becomes whether you, as a business leader, will give in to the fear, or lead others through the fear into a better future.
5. Build workplace belonging at scale
Understanding the organizations’ culture should help you identify and clear the cultural roadblocks holding you back from creating an inclusive workplace and collaborative working environment. Workplace belonging is an important piece of employee trust and engagement, especially as we navigate work-from-home and hybrid-office environments.
When communicating change in a way that supports overall workplace belonging, a “we are all in this together” approach works better than a leader saying, “You’re going to do this because I say so.” As Fitzgerald Tyler said, “It’s about creating that sense of us rather than me versus you.”
Your approach to change should reinforce an employee’s belief that “this is the right workplace for me as an individual, and I trust my leaders have my best interests at heart.” If your approach doesn’t have this outcome, that should be a red flag that workplace belonging and trust are at risk.
6. Build change management around your core values
Aligning a change management program to a company’s core values creates a sense of security and trust in the process — something that’s particularly relevant in our current climate.
Values are often (and should be) the most solid part of a company’s approach to change. Employees should be able to see your values as pillars for the company’s higher-level purpose. Your values should make the difficult path through change more understandable, relevant, and necessary.
If “customer experience” is a core company value, for example, leaders can underline how the change program aligns with improving the kind of customer experience the company delivers, making it seamless and intuitive.
7. Design an empathetic communications strategy
Many believe empathy is the most important leadership skill and crucial for maintaining a loyal, engaged workforce. Fitzgerald Tyler shares a recent experience to drive this point home. “I recently read a letter sent to all employees from a CEO of a large company. The CEO took time to empathetically address the life milestones that could not be physically celebrated this year, and the feelings of uncertainty swirling through the organization. This leadership statement instantly engendered trust and connection between a large group of people in a challenging situation.”
When designing a change communications strategy, Fitzgerald Tyler advises following the “Rule of Four,” which entails outlining specific approaches for four key groups: your executives, your managers and directors, your end users, and your general population.
“If you can define a core strategy for these four groups, then you can build horizontal layers onto that to reach the entire organization, and will generally come out with a really good strategy. But you have to start at the top.”
When applied thoughtfully, these seven tactics for managing change can boost employee and customer trust in times of uncertainty. They can also sharpen a company’s ability to adapt to the current environment, which may include working remotely or staggered reopening, while preparing for future challenges — all while maintaining employee engagement and a sense of belonging.
As Fitzgerald Tyler remarks, “All change is about trust. We are all asking new existential questions that we’ve never had to ask in a work environment before. Can you apply metrics to successful change? Absolutely. Can you apply theory to it? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, meaningful change is about looking at your workforce and your communities and asking, ‘Where do you hurt? How can I help? What can I do to be of service?’”