Leading Successful Change Initiatives through Personal Stake Activation
Updated: Jan 28, 2022
I've been reflecting on the lack of morale and excitement at organizations today and the parallel transformational efforts across environmental, racial equity, and digital initiatives . Now more than ever creating change involves a complete shift in how leaders communicate, and an understanding of how employees relate to each other and who they trust in increasingly flattening structures . Creating psychological safety & intimacy towards employees feeling a stake in their work will be essential to seeing these initiatives succeed !
“ Most organizations right now are at the midst of some organizational transformation”
Some involve racial and equity transformations, others are looking to ensure environmental initiatives and climate work is a top priority, and most are reevaluating digital systems and investing in new technology. Whatever the case may be, many leaders I'm hearing from have detailed the often painstaking work transformation takes. In today's organizational landscape traditional methods aren't cutting it. Communication from leadership and Informal Networks are the most important overlooked factors in a successful implementation and the role of personal stake for employees underlies these factors.
Often what I see is a small group of senior leaders at the top struggle to bring folks onboard to the vision, convince their colleagues that initiatives are valuable, or successfully implement new initiatives across their organization. The first strategy is to use formal lines of communication and leadership hierarchy to convey changes, involving a flurry of memos and a quick timeline of work.
Senior leadership, and increasingly members across the organization, are having challenges using hierarchical tactics. This is due to flattening caused by the digitization of remote work, a smaller workforce requiring more flexibility, and an increasing level of uncertainty across industries. Today, the informal relationships, sincerity, and approach to change is more delicate than ever.
1. Communication from Leadership
A string of formal memos doesn't work for a couple of reasons. First there's no intimacy; employees are looking for managers and leaders to 'drop the script' and engage in back and forth conversation involving a bottom-up exchange of ideas. Many individuals also complain about business as usual language that makes it seem like leadership is either unaware or indifferent to the challenges folks are facing today whether it be a lack of morale, direction, or health and financial strains.
Dropping social scripts involves listening to employee sentiment and allowing for conversations to drive, shift, or redirect change initiatives.
Chances are, the sentiment for change exists across the organization and and informal solution might exist for addressing it. Back to back face/video interactivity allows for these processes while memos do not. The other factors are inclusion and intentionality.
“Employees want to have the trust from senior leadership to narrate their own work instead of messaging being controlled by the top. "
This involves being proactive about issues bubbling up, having an agenda and purpose to conversations, and being driven by curiosity, openness, and interest instead of reactivity or fear. At the end of the day individuals feel proud about a narrative and a change they are helping drive and co-creating in development with leadership.
2. Informal Networks of Advice and Trust
Informal networks have always existed but are particularly relevant in today's world as employee proximity, connections that had been built pre-COVID, and reorganized teams continue to increase the gap between the formal and informal network. The information or advice network is who employees go to if something isn't working or to fill in existing gaps. Mapping this network will tell you what systems people use, what processes are relevant, and vice-versa. When leadership proposes initiatives, by failing to consider the underlying information network, they end up creating layered dysfunctional processes. The trust or change network involves the employees people feel are employee advocates and have 'their back'. These individuals also become more relevant during crisis management. Trust networks exist at all levels of the organization and often have power in making or breaking change initiatives. These individuals can be resistant to change and at times hold power in an organization they don't want to lose.
3. Personal Stake.
This factor underlies all others because if employees don't feel a sense of psychological safety, for example in a back to back feedback session, and trust their organization will listen to them without punishment- they won't share that valuable network advice or speak openly about their reaction to change initiatives. Developing Personal stake comes from leadership 'going off script' and modeling psychological safety and intimacy . It also involves addressing the track record of the organization when perhaps the organization was deemed unsafe. Have people been fired for speaking up or sharing ideas? Has strategy taken a 360 without employee input? Have feedback sessions amounted to nothing?
All of these experiences lead to a low amount of average personal stake in the work of the organization. Individuals will still 'show up' but will refrain from sharing valuable information that is essential to successful transformations. Only approved agreed upon opinions while be shared, which creates the illusion of cultural orthodoxy, and the certainty of a failed change effort.
Cultural echos are unlikely to help an organization radically shift towards racial equity, climate justice, and digital transformation. Leaders must show up as their whole selves, be able to work with teams with an eye towards learning, curiosity, and interest, and be co-creators in rethinking the future of their organizations.