- Employee Engagement
I’ve just read Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s piece in the Harvard Business Review where she revisits seven sayings, from Yogi Berra’s “when you come to a fork in the road, take it,” to Alice in Wonderland’s, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” that she finds particularly poignant with respect to the challenges of change management.
One of Kanter’s original quotes, however, resonated particularly deeply with my own viewpoint on our work:
“Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me.”
As a strategy execution firm, at Gagen MacDonald we often enter situations in which companies are engaged in high stakes, high pressure situations, trying vigorously to put pivotal strategic initiatives into action and make them stick among employees. In these situations, one of the first beliefs that people often express to me is that, “people don’t like change.”
Frankly, that’s not necessarily true; and more importantly, for business it’s totally defeatist.
As Kanter’s quote captures, it’s not that people fear change; it’s that they fear change they can’t control. This is why, more and more, the experiences in my career have led me to believe that the process of co-creation, enlisting employees to be part of the solution, is a truly critical element of successful strategy execution.
Because we often operate under the assumption that employees are naturally resistant to change, our instinct in implementing strategies is to design the change and then sell it. We map the messages, bang out the bullet points, build the decks, write the newsletters and cue up the videos, all under the pretense that our best chance at overcoming employee skepticism and resistance is to rationally appeal to their common sense: to sell them on the change they are set to inherit.
While there is certainly tremendous value in these types of information campaigns, I believe that there is even greater power in creating experiences for employees where they are not only recipients of change, but authors of it. In these cases, employees own the change and want to make it work.
The Coca Cola Company is a great example. Needing to grow their business to maintain their industry leadership, in 2005 the company launched their Our Manifesto for Growth business strategy. Quickly thereafter, they began experiencing challenges enlisting associates in their vision. Rather than selling associates on a series of new programs, protocols and procedures, Tom Mattia and his team activated their Manifesto by making employees part of the answer.
Their “My Drop” initiative involved associates, from then CEO Neville Isdell to the entry level employees around the world, in exercises which encouraged participants to weigh the company’s Manifesto goals against their own personal aspirations, and then to articulate – in words or images – how they believed they could contribute to achieving the company’s vision.
Stitched together, the total drops painted the picture of a company capable of incredible progress. Suddenly, the sum was considerably greater than its many parts had been. Individually, change had been reduced, “from a threat to an opportunity.” I think this reflects where we as communicators should be. Rather than marketing messages to employees and selling them on change, our job needs to be more and more about finding creative ways to empower them to adopt and adapt meaningful change. The best way to lead successful change is to let go.
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