The questions leaders should ask any time they’re making changes…..

Recently, I’ve been working with a lot of clients who have or are completing employee engagement surveys.  After addressing modern employment basics like work flexibility and refreshed perks, many leaders are asking how they can improve their culture to increase retention.

Culture change is a huge undertaking. Whether increasing trust among colleagues or helping front-line staff improve the customer experience, changing behaviours is a big task for leaders and employees. On top of that, it’s widely reported that 70% of all change initiatives like these fail.

To improve the chances of launching and implementing a successful culture change program, answer these three questions first. 

What needs to be different?

It’s a frequent mistake for company’s to begin the quest for change with the solution instead of the effect. When leaders jump too quickly to an answer—’better benefits!’ or ‘team awayday!’—they risk tiring staff and management with quick fixes that will likely fail. 

Implementing a program without knowing why is like hitting the accelerator ignorant of the destination—you’ll be moving, but probably in the wrong direction. What every culture change program needs first is clarity of intent.

The leader of any initiative must first determine an outcome. The answer to “what do we want to be different?” should be concise, concrete, and supported by the behaviours that drive that change. 

What’s in for employees?

Leaders can easily issue mandates hoping to force employees into change, but lasting shifts in behaviour only stick when people understand how it will benefit them personally, answering the question ‘what’s in it for me?’ (WIIFM).

An aspiration like being more customer focused is critical to light the spark of change, but to see it burn brightly beyond a few months, every employee must understand why it matters to them.

To understand why employees should care about your change program, start by answering these questions:

  • What is being asked of employees, and how will this impact them?
  • How will the program change positively impact the employee’s day-to-day life?
  • How does this change connect to feedback employees have shared or business needs expressed?

What could stop this change we want being successful?

After a solid outcome is defined and employees know “WIIFM,” let’s talk about what could go wrong. Challenges constantly thwart even the best-prepared teams. One way to overcome these roadblocks is to recognise and remove obstacles before they are a problem.

Good intentions are a start but not the solution. Some forces keep us stuck in the status quo. Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton labelled this the “Knowing-Doing Gap” to describe a maxim of change—knowing better doesn’t equal doing better. The good news is that the prepared leader can close this gap.  

What challenges can you find and remove? Start by answering these questions:

  • What existing systems or processes are opposing the desired change?
  • Who are my ‘blockers’—people who won’t be on my side unless included in the process?
  • What have we tried before, and why did that fail? And why did it succeed?
  • What skills, knowledge, or motivation may be lacking? 
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