A transformation project isn’t automatically destined for failure. An organization has to trust the ability of its employees to complete a transformation once the company gives them the right tools and philosophy to be successful. Inside Success Lab, the first idea lab dedicated to successful transformations, started with this principle in mind when we brought together change agents on September 24 to discuss the challenges of promoting transformation within organizations.
How can we make transformation something positive in the minds of employees? How do we draw out collaborative and peer-led practices based on trust and empowerment? How do we make positive practices go viral? How can we capitalize on employees with influence? These were the questions that guided discussions and enabled participants to learn from the experience of their peers.
Communicating a Strategic Vision
No matter what approach is used or what triggers the transformation, it’s essential to communicate a vision to employees that explains the project’s meaning.
“Human beings need a vision and a ‘why’ to move forward. The project must be linked to the company’s DNA, as well as to external challenges,” Michaël Bentolila, CEO & co‑founder of InsideBoard
Teams often know the initial facts (market, company situation, changes, etc.), especially in large companies where the press is covering the situation. Plus, they’re familiar with the mechanisms of a project process, and they know what it leads to. But human beings need meaning to make progress. Employees want to understand the meaning behind the transformation they’re going through.
So, projects must be incorporated into a strategy that’s meaningful. It’s essential to take the time to connect these projects to the company’s DNA and the external problems it’s facing in order to show employees the vision of where they should be headed. And once the vision has been created, it will be easier to stick with it.
Finally, in order to communicate a strategic vision, you need the ability to deal with multiple projects that are part of a larger transformation.
1. Context, Challenges, Messages, Stakeholders
What elements trigger transformation projects?
- A change in the external context, market or competition that leads a company to ask questions about its organization, performance and business model.
- The combination of these elements with management’s vision for the company’s future (short or long term). An in-depth market study will often allow a company to determine the tangible strategic and organizational components of a transformation project. Once these are established, the project can be launched: start by defining the strategy and objectives and the methods to achieve them. Then develop an action plan to the implement strategy.
- For some topics, peer-to-peer discussions (by region, in the field) make it possible to centralize identification of a program to roll out to the teams.
- Double trigger: at some companies, especially those with decentralized structures, teams adopt sound practices from external sources. In order to capitalize on these initial positive developments, the Executive Committee can take over the transformation project, knowing that it responds to actual on-the-ground expectations.
What are the challenges of transformation and which messaging template should you use to convey the project vision?
- Ensure the company’s continued existence
Messaging template: “An analysis of the external environment shows that we must adapt.” This messaging style can be alarming without being motivating. However, this is still one of the key drivers of transformation. In this case, it’s up to those managing the transformation to turn the constraint into a positive approach to create interest among employees.
- Reinforce the company’s solid footing
It’s harder to justify kicking off a transformation project when the company is in a comfortable position. In this case, the messaging will focus on solidifying the foundation for the future. The transformation can be presented as athletic training that will enable the company to go further for longer.
- Make the company future-focused
Based on contextual elements (e.g., loss of market share, changing ecological context), a meaningful vision presented by management can be an incredible source of motivation for employees. If they believe in this vision and see that the company’s orientation is positive, they’ll want to contribute to it.
- Improve short-term financial performance (urgency, performance)
Be careful, though: once a transformation has been launched with a focus on being competitive, it’s very difficult to refocus the messaging on other transformation topics like sustainable development and collaboration, and to explain why they matter.
In a context focused on continually improving performance, remember to listen to employees and put them at the center of the transformation project.
Who are the stakeholders involved? Who needs to be convinced?
- Executive Committee
It will convey the project’s vision so that people feel inspired and protected. The Executive Committee’s role is to provide context and authorization, not to impose requirements. It must highlight those who get involved and rely on them (rather than stigmatizing those who don’t take action) to create a positive environment and increase motivation through positive association.
A transformation project can be likened to taking up a new sport. There are three successive phases: an initial inspiration phase, a second phase where enthusiasm and methods for taking the first steps are shared, and finally, the move from discomfort into comfort. Managers need to be brought on-board in the process: make them trainers, not taskmasters.
In a more collaborative process, it’s essential to take the time to listen to employees in order to identify the actual expectations that the transformation is built on. It’s interesting to note that departments in a support role often become aware of the need for transformation before teams in the field.
It’s essential not to lose sight of a transformation’s end goal: to better meet customer needs and better promote what you do (in a customer-centric way). This involves thinking about more than just profitability.
What obstacles/barriers should be taken into account?
- When transforming culture at an organization, it’s important not to underestimate silo thinking and resistance to cross-functionality, including within the executive committee. This may involve being more directive and less collaborative on these topics with the executive committee while still collaborating with employees on the ground level.
- Forgetting to make use of the company’s successes, culture, assets and strengths. Using a negative diagnostic or external threats as a starting point for a transformation plan is less effective and positive than building on a company’s strengths, especially for an organization that isn’t in danger.
- In certain companies, the managerial culture is strong and there’s a significant need for exemplary leadership. Managers can therefore be a significant obstacle in change management. Collaborative culture, along with agile processes and decision sharing with employees, is sometimes seen as a loss of legitimacy or power for those who have acquired these things over the years. Explaining the meaning behind the project becomes even more important in this context since the company must inspire confidence in each individual.
2. Engagement Levers, Communication Channels, Best Practices
What rationale will convince stakeholders?
- When faced with individual employee questions (“What is this going to change for me?”), you must respond to the question “Why this project, why that tool, in what context will this be used?”. The goal is for the employee to decide by themselves to look into the topic and to use the tool. The company’s role is to motivate them in addition to explaining the meaning behind the project.
- No SINGLE rationale is going to work for ALL users. You need to find what will work for each user profile, to find custom levers that will help each employee develop a personal interest in the tool so you get them to participate.
- The training lever, for example, says, we’re going to provide a skill, like “learning to speak English.” If the employee decides to leave the company, they’ll have improved their employability. Just a warning: the traditional training lever that works well for rational minds isn’t a lever that motivates others.
- You need to add levers that focus on engagement, emotion, recognition and positive peer pressure (playing off the idea of belonging to a community, not getting left out and creating a viral buzz). A best practice shared by an employee has more of an impact on their peers than a rule that comes from the top. But it’s important to understand the why, otherwise the employee won’t participate.
What are best practices for lowering resistance?
- Customize the rationale and levers.
To do this, you need to segment populations and adapt the way you communicate with each category: the channels, levers and rationale must be chosen based on the employee’s categories in order to reach them with the right message at the right time through customized communication—this is where InsideBoard’s change management platform comes in.
- Communicate with the employee like you would a consumer and draw inspiration from the luxury sector where brands have been communicating with consumers using multichannel methods for at least 20 years (emails, social media, challenges among co-workers, etc.). The transformation is based on the freedom and trust given to employees that motivates them to get involved in their daily work.
- Allow local managers to drive transformation.
To motivate employee engagement throughout the organization, it’s essential to give middle management the keys needed to drive transformation on the local level by inviting them to implement the project on the regional or institutional level, for example. Even if they have to align with national projects, they’ll be right in the middle of the action, poised to succeed locally. This will allow local projects to be avenues for positive discussion between the manager and their supervisor.
- Co-create with employee trade unions.
There is sometimes a tacit alliance between employee trade unions and middle management who refuses transformation. This can create very strong resistance to change. Co-creating based on objective studies and bringing customers, unions, local elected officials and managers to the table can be a solution. This enables everyone to talk with one another and understand each other, as well as to get the union on board with the need for transformation.
- Let people on the ground make the decision.
In cases of poor financial performance, some companies and their managers have decided to give their team the power to make a decision. For example, to find a solution to avoid outsourcing a department’s work. Empowering stakeholders can help calm the general mood.
- Make an IS project (technical or process) into a department project by allowing the teams to look ahead and reposition the tool in the operational chain to identify what this will change in terms of customer experience, employee experience and performance.
What channels should be used to communicate about a successful transformation?
- Let the employee choose the channels and levers.
The employee should choose the lever that works best for them. To make this possible, companies must give their employees the tools they need. They have to provide motivation and create the right conditions for employees and teams to emulate one another.
- Use popular standard communication channels (videos, webinars), always with the goal of making it possible for anyone who wants to communicate to do so, to anyone who’s interested.
- Develop internal communities.
A company must make it possible to create metrics-based success communities as part of a project, so it must define what success looks like in advance. Once identified, these communities must be managed using defined metrics. It’s now clear that these communities are much more effective than an email to reach and motivate employees.
- Use gamification to incentivize sharing.
This is the vision we promote at InsideBoard: to drive a successful transformation, you have to use a positive approach that puts the employee at the center of the project and that uses a reward system rather than focusing on those who aren’t succeeding. So, gamification is an effective tool for lowering resistance and motivating employees to invest in the project.
“Gamification is a great tool for identifying those who stand out from the pack and considering those who move forward,” says Michaël Bentolila, CEO & co-founder of InsideBoard.
- Gamification allows companies to:
– identify influential employees who could become natural ambassadors
– reward successes that are based on performance and what has been accomplished as part of the transformation. This creates a balance between engagement/community contributions and the results produced.
3. Measuring/MONITORING success
Measuring success using objective and realistic KPIs for all employees allows companies to:
- avoid making commitments as a transformation leader based on unrealistic data
- have a concrete, on-the-ground approach to transformation° provide tangible and real-time results to project sponsors
- motivate employees by measuring progress and displaying results in an addictive form (for example, a rising thermometer) that employees check often, like someone who’s counting their steps and wants to see if they’ve reached 10,000 for the day
- obtain a total equation for success by combining different types of metrics: adherence, training, adoption of tools and business processes, performance, etc. and linking the KPIs to the strategic vision.
InsideBoard, the first AI platform for change management, is the only solution that gives you a comprehensive, flexible tool for monitoring your company’s transformation success. To learn more, request a demo of the platform.