You’re ready for a Business Transformation, but is your workforce?

You have done all the research. You know areas of your company need a facelift or a transplant. Your processes are manual and out of date. You have seen the writing etched into the wall that you need to change now or risk drowning below a sea of companies that know how to work efficiently and put the customer first. Your team is in place. The finance department has given you the green light. The executives are all fired up. You are ready.

But is your workforce ready for what lies ahead? It’s one (monstrous) thing to make the decision to go through a business transformation. There are a lot of risks, but if it is a success, the benefits far outweigh those risks. When all is said and done, it is the work of the individual that makes something successful.  So how do you move a project from the board room through the company to every single person?  It’s something that you will need to address even before day one, and just like almost anything, if you do it right from the beginning and do it in manageable steps, your chances for success will increase substantially.

So how do you start change management out right? What are those first vital steps you need to take to set that stage for success? Here are 5 critical points to address to help with these questions. Use them as a solid base for the entire project, and you won’t regret it.

  1. Set the stage. Information needs to start from the top. However it is up to you to determine what communication methods works best for your company. That first crucial message needs to be very clear and come from the highest point in the company. This is your chance to set the stage. It is human nature to ask questions, so spend some time thinking through what different questions will be from the workforce in different departments or job duties. What is the scope of the project? How will it effect the workforce?  Will there by layoffs or job restructuring? How long is the project expected to take? Why are you choosing to go through this process? Why now and not a year from now? It may be hard, but be transparent now and gain their trust. You’ll need it as this project progresses. If you don’t have all the answers yet, say so. In this message, you should also clarify how and when they will receive communication about the project. This message can – and should- be designed as a Vision Statement. You will most likely have a number of people who have been through this before and experienced a failed outcome.  This is your opportunity to help them see the vision – the Why of the project.  What should you include?
    • Be transparent and realistic. No one wants a fluffy statement with rainbows and unicorns when they know better. They want to know what’s going on. Earn their trust now.
    • Show them the Why. Make it clear that this is well thought out, and you see this as the best, most profitable, etc. path to bring the company to the next level or whatever the ultimate goal is for your project.
    • Emphasize the faith in your leadership and in the entire workforce to get you there.
    • Provide a road map (big brush strokes) to help them envision what to expect. This will also help to guide expected decision making and behavior.
  2. Embrace your company culture. Work with the positive, not against it. As Phil Knight, Founder and CEO of Nike has said, “If executives think they can (fully) change a company culture they may as well have a lobotomy.” Look for the strong points of your company culture and build on those. Reward the good. While it may not be realistic to change a company culture completely, this is an opportunity to re-position some of the negative elements to positive. Develop a system for communication and also for the change ahead to fit within the way your people like to work and how they think about projects. If you have a culture of friendly competition, use that to your advantage within the project. If you have a workforce afraid of their place in the company after the transition, look for small successes early to help them envision the positive. If your workforce abhors workplace team-building activities, don’t do them (and by the way use that as a talking point so they know you pay attention). Once you can get the workforce on board in a manner in which they can relate, it will be a more positive experience for everyone.
  3. Set teams and leaders in place before you start. Set up a clear line of communication from the CEO through to the Executive team, and Department Heads – and right on along, again, in a way that works for your company and company culture. Look for champions everywhere. When your department head brings a name to you of someone who has asked a lot of questions or has expressed interest in the changes, make them part of the change solution. Bring them in on meetings, let their excitement or information about the project expand to the rest of the workforce.
  4. Brand the transformation. Give it its own look, feel, and communication. A branded email or pamphlet – however your company communicated – will help the workforce see what is part of the change and what is still their day to day norm. As time goes on, what was their norm is reduced, and the branded pieces replace what was the norm, making it slowly their new norm.
  5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Nothing is worse in the face of change than wondering if you are being left in the dark. Your message overall won’t change, and it will be based on that initial vision statement. Provide updates when you can. And information shouldn’t only flow from the top-down. Set a system in place to allow anyone to provide feedback, going back again to what works for your company culture. People want to be heard. Not only will your workforce feel frustrated and unimportant, but you may miss some crucial information that can make your project more successful. So communicate and communicate often, and allow for that communication to flow back and forth whenever possible or whenever it makes sense to do so. Enough said.

Change is hard. There is no denying it. But if you start with a strong, clear statement of goals, vision, and expectations, and then base all following communication on that message, you can help to make the transformation a success throughout the company as a whole. Help your workforce be a part of the success and a part of the change. It’s still going to be hard (no rainbows and unicorns here either), but by putting in place these five elements, the change will get off to a positive start, and it will be less painful and more successful than leaving your workforce to wonder what may be around the next dark corner.

Sarah Witter

Ms. Witter has over 20 years of experience working with client development through branding, change, and communication management in multiple industries. She uses a multi-faceted approach to ascertain a solid understanding of client challenges, marketing goals, corporate personality, and workflow systems to ensure positive outcomes for client's business transformation. Sarah has a broad client background encompassing public broadcasting, retail and supply chain management, software sales, food and beverage, finance, real estate, health care, and technology.