Maintain Your Organization’s Work Style During Big ChangeTransformation is stressful enough. Don’t make things harder by losing what works. Focus on these three areas to stay true to your organization’s work style.
Work style is how things get done. It’s the day-to-day manifestation of your organization’s culture — the unspoken way we work and deliver projects. It’s framed by purpose and guided by values.
During times of intense change, it’s important to be aware of your organization’s work style, and to honor it. Transformation projects are stressful enough to knock even the strongest of us off-course. The best way to help your organization is to stay true to what works for you.
There are three key areas of focus.
Communication. How much communication does your organization need? What kinds of communication work for you? The channels might be formal, informal or a combination. Every organization is different. For example, if your teams are highly focused on running an operation, or they are spread out geographically, you might need dedicated, in-person events like town halls to reach them. Who are credible messengers to spread the word, — managers or respected peers? It’s critical to know what it takes to get employees to focus their attention.
Consensus Requirements. Does your organization run on consensus? The answer drives the speed of decision-making. Whose opinion matters? If all the key people need to buy in, build in time to gain that consensus. Identify which stakeholders have to bless each decision, follow a process, and make sure the teams know their voices have been heard. Depending on the topic, you might need less consensus. Take advantage of that – push work to the lowest-level teams that can make the decision.
Relationships vs. Structure. To what extent does work get done through deep relationships vs. systems and process? If relationships are important, plan for that. Create a framework that fosters relationships. For example, create robust onboarding, recognition methods, and celebration rituals. Relationship-based cultures will resist too much structure if it’s visible. If your teams are more systems-oriented, lean on those processes. But be careful – it’s easy to ignore a well-oiled machine. Make sure you review processes — at least annually — to ensure they help employees to their best work. Identify and close any gaps.
Clarifying your organization’s best working styles helps leadership strike the right balance between empowerment and accountability. And it makes any big transformation so much easier.
So, what’s your style?
Virtual OnboardingWhat we know about brain science can give your new employees a great transition to your team.
Make it familiar, controlled, and successful.
The pandemic has forced many businesses into a work-from-home model. Well-known companies like Google and Facebook won’t have workers return to their offices until at least January 2021.
But hiring does not stop. How do you onboard employees virtually? How do you get them engaged and performing through a screen?
Most of us are acquainted with the mechanics of virtual onboarding. There’s already been a lot written about the basics:
- Welcome the new hire with something tangible like a plant, gift basket, or company-branded gear.
- Keep each virtual onboarding session short and interactive.
- Use strong presenters.
- Expand the elapsed time for onboarding from one or two days to as many as 30 days.
- Issue surveys to gauge engagement and solicit feedback for improvement.
But we think good virtual onboarding has to go deeper. When you’re onboarding employees, you’re asking them to change their behaviors—do this, in this way, to this standard. You are also hoping to reinforce their positive feelings about the organization, so they feel welcome and they are part of something great.
Science tells us that if we want behavior change to work, we should make it feel familiar, controlled, and successful.
Our brains see new things as dangerous, so change – like a new job – can create feelings of resistance. But familiarity, as mentioned in other posts, feels “safe.” You can activate those feelings of safety in your onboarding program.
Determine what makes most new employees feel great about the employer—for example, the culture, the brand, the physical environment, the great people, and the proper supports and resources. Highlight those familiar “feel good” elements in your welcome video and guest speakers. The more you remind them of what they already know and like, the better.
Use video tools that are familiar to most participants. We all know Zoom. Many of us will not be familiar with GoToMeeting or TeamViewer. Make the login to the virtual onboarding easy. First impressions matter.
Include live speakers or filmed testimonials from people who look and sound more like your new employees. If your new hires are in their 20’s and mainly Black or Brown, they won’t connect as well to, let’s say, middle-aged White men.
Repeat certain onboarding activities throughout the program; for example, use weekly check-ins with their boss and a peer coach. Over time, these events will start to feel familiar.
Humans love to feel in control. Giving new hires the feeling of control reduces anxiety and frees their brains for learning and executive functioning. You can do this by building in structure, predictability, and choice.
Develop an onboarding timeline and share it repeatedly when meeting with the new hires. For example, if a group of new hires connects every week, show them the timeline with a “you are here” marker.
Provide new hires with the right tools: laptop, easy connectivity, digital onboarding tools, and job aids. How about a new hire portal or MS Team Site to house all this information? Include FAQs and key contact information they can have at their fingertips.
Give them some choices up front: Surface or MacAir? Flextime vs. standard business hours?
Build some flexibility into their onboarding tasks so they can exert some personal control over their schedules and not feel like their new employer is programming every minute of the day.
Winning releases dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical. And sharing success promotes oxytocin, the connection hormone. You can build success into your onboarding program.
Small and simple successes might be things like signing up for health benefits or getting their parking pass activated. Highlight each successful step. Consider gamification to track these successes, with a nominal reward or recognition at the end.
Handling some of their new job activities, with support of their new manager and peers, will also make them feel successful. Keep things small and simple in the beginning, so you are sure they will complete them correctly. (Failing at one of these tasks will produce the opposite effect!) Have managers give new employees coaching and feedback along the way. You could even build completion and sign-off into your gamification approach.
New hires feel more successful when they feel they are becoming part of the team. Interpersonal and social successes count too! Can’t gather at the local sports bar? How about a virtual happy hour or beer bash? Schedule some virtual team lunches or coffee breaks—the company could pay to have the meal or coffee delivered to the new hire.
The last word…
Create your company’s onboarding experience to promote feelings of familiarity. New hires will feel they’re more in control of their transition when you include choice, structure, and predictability. And they’ll feel more successful if you provoke the feel-good chemicals in their brains through small wins, feedback and rewards, and orchestrated virtual events that make them feel like they belong. It’s a different world right now, but people are still the same. What we know about brain science can give your new employees a great transition to your team.
Dear CoronavirusWhile many have suffered from a devastating health crisis, COVID-19 also opened our eyes to the need for real transformation.
Emerson’s Off-the-Clock series captures the personal thoughts of our consultants.
As strange as this seems, I have a love/hate relationship with you. While so many around the world have suffered in the last few months from a devastating health crisis you caused, you also did something good. You exposed our flaws and opened our eyes to the need for real transformation.
At first, we were at a loss. You forced us to stay at home and we didn’t know how to handle that. Work from home? Be at home? With the entire family? 24/7? Home-school our kids? In a world where everything has become social, offices have moved to blue-sky models, collaboration is king, companies have moved to face-to-face and personalization as the best ways to communicate…here we are, suddenly isolated.
What’s old was new again. Families started to eat dinner together, watch movies together, play board games, and do puzzles. As we began to social distance, institutions on the verge of going under, like drive in movie theaters, began to surge.
More importantly, we saw positivity and creativity. Communities supported each other with food and supplies. Businesses got creative about how to work and how to deliver to customers.
The whole world began to think differently, work differently, relate differently, and behave differently.
Then, the death of George Floyd happened. Suddenly, people came together in a different way—in a protective and resilient way. And while you did not cause that, you set the stage for it. You stoked a feeling that we must stand up and fight to survive. That if we can survive you, we can survive a lot. And that, when the racism reared its ugly head— again—it would not be ignored.
This time, we had already rallied around a cause. You reminded us that, standing together, we are more powerful. And that’s when something beautiful happens. We behave differently. We say “No more. Not on my watch.”
So while you continue to linger in our lives like a toxic cloud (and, in a cruel irony, attack people of color more savagely than the rest), you have revealed our power. You helped us realize that, while we can’t control you, we CAN control some things.
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote,
“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
You poured alcohol on the open wounds that need to heal. You’ve brought light to things that need to be more visible and voices to those who didn’t realize they could be so loud.
You showed us what it means to slow the day down, appreciate what we have, love each other, stand up for what we believe in, and maybe even restore our faith in humankind. You reminded me of the power of real change— transformational change. I still hate you. But how amazing it is to be part of that.
Scale Your Workforce in Tough TimesAt Emerson, we think of talent management holistically -- it helps achieve the business outcomes you want. But how can you streamline the process? Download our latest whitepaper to learn how.
Familiar, Controlled, and SuccessfulThere is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you […]
There is a lot of research on the brain and behavior. Science can tell us why we feel and act the way we do. At Emerson, we like to take scientific findings and use them to help you get the business outcomes you want. There are three principles, based in science, which can help you make any organizational change or learning program better. Science tells us that if we want to implement something new in an organization, we should make it feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful.
The first principle is Familiar. Our brains see anything new as a threat. We feel fear. Familiarity can make a new thing feel safe and valuable. Familiarity is created by comparing the new thing to your past experiences. Compare the change to something good. Compare the change to something bad. Use what they already know. And, of course, we know stories are powerful. So you can use a story as the vehicle for each of these. I’ve used story telling on many of my projects. Typically, I find executives or experienced / well-respected managers to share stories that help make the change to feel familiar. Also, use repetition. Perhaps the information is new to people when you start the project, but if you keep repeating it over and over, it becomes familiar. I do this by having multiple resources sharing their stories.
The second principle is Controlled. Our brains don’t like uncertainty and they don’t like feeling vulnerable. Giving people predictability and control lowers anxiety and unleashes people’s potential to plan and organize. Control is created by giving a change predictability and structure, and by giving people choices. Share a schedule or project roadmap to help those impacted by the change to understand when things are happening. This helps them to schedule the rest of life which gives them some control during the change. Also, Frequently Asked Questions provide stakeholders with additional information which helps them to feel control.
The third principle is Successful. Brain research tells us exactly why winning feels good. And why winning together feels even better. A feeling of success is created by engineering small wins and celebrating milestones. One way to make someone feel successful doing something new is by breaking that new thing into small, simple tasks. Another way to make people feel successful is by making the new thing doable. Also, be sure to make your change measurable. Being able to measure it helps to show when goals are being achieved. Once those goals are achieved or those milestones are met, use rewards to encourage people to continue moving forward with the change. In past projects, I’ve set it up so that teams who are showing progress, get recognized by the company. This encourages them to continue moving forward and it helps the rest of the organization see how things should be done based on the new way of doing business.
Creating connections between your change and other experiences makes people feel it’s familiar, which turns off fear, makes the change feel valuable, and helps people remember it. Adding choice, structure, and predictability makes the change feel controlled, so people feel less anxious, more engaged, and get to use their brains’ executive functions. Engineering small wins; measuring; providing feedback and rewards; and celebrating make people feel successful, activating the feel-good chemicals in their brains. Use the simple strategies outlined here to make your change feel Familiar, Controlled, and Successful. In doing so, the change will be more quickly adapted in your organization. Good luck!
Three Thoughts on a MergerOur thoughts on how to have a successful merger.
Morgan Stanley and E*Trade. Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgen. United Technologies and Raytheon. Regardless of investor reaction, mergers and acquisitions this big undoubtedly strike fear in the hearts of employees. And people have only so much focus and energy—when they’re in survival mode, they aren’t that great at their jobs. So what are responsible industry titans to do? We have some tips.
Start talking now.
It’s natural to want to delay messaging until there is perfect alignment and all facts are in order. But if you don’t communicate, you create a vacuum, and you know how nature feels about that. The space where your message should be will be overrun by rumors and falsehoods. So before the deal is done, start getting leadership aligned on a message. Start cascading it through both organizations as soon as possible. Research shows that during uncertain times, employees crave trust, stability, confidence, and empathy in their leaders. A consistent, compelling message is what they need.
Address the culture clash.
Too often leaders ignore company culture, both before the deal is signed and throughout the integration. We know that a single culture is difficult to shift. Combining the cultures of two organizations is double trouble.
The first step is to know you have a culture. We suggest using the PRIDE method. Assessments will create detailed pictures of both company cultures. Then, take a look at all plans through the culture goggles of each company’s employees. What works for one might not work for the other.
For example, let’s say the company you’re acquiring is has an “everyman” culture. Maybe they are used to all-hands meetings to socialize every change. So do that. Find out which big changes went well for the company, and liken the acquisition to that experience, creating a feeling of familiarity and safety. And pay attention to words and symbols; for this organization you might do well with high-touch images and talk of family and community.
The bigger the change, the more hecklers you’ll have, and a merger is as big as it gets. So how do you confront the critics? You don’t. Focus your energy on the “sweet spot”—those employees who are open to change and who can influence your outcomes. Enlist them as project advocates. These grass-roots change agents can create momentum toward a successful merger.
In the very best of Ms and As, there are rough seas to navigate. You can ride the waves more easily by mastering communication, culture, and resistance.
How to Handle Resistance to ChangeHow do you confront the hecklers disrupting your change initiative? You don’t.
You’ve probably watched a heckler interrupt a public speaker. Maybe you’ve watched – on video or in person – as a performer or politician has to deal with mocking or derisive comments, shouted from the crowd. Maybe the speaker answers back, or security escorts the heckler from the venue.
Change initiatives can have hecklers too. They usually don’t shout down a speaker; they use other ways to criticize and disrupt.
It’s to be expected. People are resistant to change. Hecklers might say negative things about your project or predict it will fail. They might even try to sabotage project activities or influence others to join in their negative campaign. You might secretly wish you had security to escort those hecklers from the building! But that’s not going to happen.
So how do you confront hecklers? You don’t.
Here’s what you do. Instead of seeking out and addressing every critic of your project, focus your energy where it counts. Figure out who has the ability to influence the success of the project. Are some of those influencers mildly resistant or mildly supportive of the change? Those people are your sweet spot. They matter, because they can affect the project. And they’re not so strongly against your project that they’re beyond persuasion. Your sweet spot is that group of hecklers that you could actually turn into advocates, with a little effort.
But how do you bring them over from the dark side? Communication and involvement are your tools.
Communication. Ask: What do they care about? What are the benefits of the change to them? What negative consequences will they feel if the project fails? What do they need to hear to make this change seem like a good idea?
Involvement. Ask: How can we help them own the change? Where can we leverage their expertise? What has resonated with them in the past to spur them to action? Based on that, what how can they participate? Focus groups? Governance? Serving as subject matter experts?
So don’t confront all of your hecklers. Instead, focus on those in your sweet spot. Continue to communicate, engage, train, and support them as you execute your change management plan. As the project bandwagon grows, the fans will drown out the hecklers.
Three Factors to Consider in Cross-Cultural Change ProjectsCulture matters when designing a change approach that impacts a global group. Start with these three factors.
Change is hard for all of us, no matter where we sit in the world. However, when a change project spans multiple geographies and cultures, we must adapt our approach. Too often, global organizations disregard cultural nuances and fail to understand that the perception of change, organizational or otherwise, is not consistent across the world. They gloss over cultural norms and value systems and the initiative suffers.
Here are a few cultural factors that might impact your change projects and some recommendations on adjusting your approach.
Cultures share power differently. Some place all authority and decision-making at the top of the organization, while others distribute the power more evenly.
For example, I was working with an executive of a state-owned enterprise in China. They were launching a new ERP system to almost a million employees. We were discussing the best project management and governance approach. The executive said, “I don’t need any of that. I just tell people what to do and they do it.”
As it turns out, that wasn’t just the view of the executive, it was the view of the entire organization. Nothing got done unless and until he said it got done. This didn’t mean that workers had no point of view or that they didn’t want to be consulted. It only meant that no action would be taken unless it came from the top.
Think about how this might impact the way we engage employees during a change project. In this instance, top-down is everything, so we might consider videos or other communications featuring executives. Regional alignment is still needed, but it’s less important than in cultures where authority is distributed more evenly.
Aversion to Risk
We all are risk-averse. After all, who likes uncertainty? It’s really the trade-off between risk and reward that matters.
Some cultures are more entrepreneurial by nature and are more willing to take risks if they believe the benefits will follow. That same spirit permeates the workplace; employees are more willing to change if they buy into the benefits. Messaging benefits is always important, but more so within risk-tolerant cultures.
In cultures where employees are less willing to give up certainty for future benefits, you might take a different tack. Here it’s important to create a new certainty – to make the point that the current state is not sustainable and that future stability relies on the change. Additionally, these cultures want to see more structure around the change. It must be highly engineered and deliver proof of a new order.
A few years back I was working on a project in the Philippines with a local businesswoman. She had a very successful consulting company and wanted help with her sales processes. After digging in, I was surprised to find out how many of her engagements were collaborations with her direct competitors. Not partnerships, but true collaborations where resources were traded back and forth and co-managed for the benefit of the client. Neither firm took advantage of the other, nor did they undermine the other’s position in the engagement. It was amazing to watch.
Cultures with a collective mindset value the contributions of the group over the individual. The opposite is true of individualistic cultures; in these cultures, a team-based recognition and reward structure might actually be demotivating and create conflict and distrust. It is critical to understand the collective vs. individualist mindset during the change process, particularly when we think about alignment and messaging.
In the United States, we have a more individualist approach and build our change interactions accordingly. We don’t tend to spend a lot of time and effort positioning the change’s value to the firm and to society in general. It’s about the WIIFM, and making sure individuals view the change as a positive step for themselves and their careers. In Sweden, however, this approach might feel unsettling or even shallow.
It’s important to understand what motivates people to change and those motivations might be completely different in a multi-culture change initiative.
Our culture impacts the way we view change and consequently how we should approach change management in multi-cultural implementations. In the end, change management is about changing behaviors. If we believe that behavior follows thought, then we first need to understand how cultural norms and values influence the way the organization thinks. In multi-cultural change initiatives, our interactions should motivate and support each culture according to its own set of values.
Your Diversity Training Isn’t Working; Here Are 5 Ways To Fix ItIn a divisive world, your company can be a powerful unifier. Here's how.
You have to hand to it Starbucks. It knows how to focus attention on fixing an issue. The act of shutting down operations for a half-day of training, whether it be for a turnaround or to address discrimination, says it is committed to a change and voting with its profitability. The execs clearly know that substantial short-term financial loss is better than long-term erosion of the brand.
But make no mistake, while its commitment to training is legend, its employee behavior change strategy rests on the symbolic act. The reason? Most diversity training doesn’t work. Here’s why:
We don’t think we’re the problem. Let me ask you directly. Are you racist? Of course not! Neither am I. We can’t see our own biases. They are unconscious. It’s a weird form of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where we assume our ability and our empathy are better than they are. The very lens we use to view the world is hard to see.
It feels punitive. Remember the one kid who acted up in school and got the whole class punished? Diversity training feels the same. It’s a bit like mandatory traffic school without an aspiring comic. So we enter the classroom closed to learning.
We don’t like training. Okay, there are nerds out there who do. But most people prefer to spend their time in other ways. We tend to favor information that solves a problem when a problem arises. And we know that diversity training, like sexual harassment training, can be a cynical exercise to prevent lawsuits rather than a solution to the essential issue.
It fosters the problem. Sometimes well-meaning programs can be divisive. Affinity groups can be alienating. Poor facilitation can create barriers rather than bridges. Focusing on the negative can be counter-productive. In fact, researchers have found that some training actually reinforces bias.
It reinforces bias?
Unfortunately, it can. In 2001, Lori Robb and Dennis Doverspike asked 90 undergraduate men to take J.B. Pryor’s “Likelihood to Harass” scale before taking an hour of a popular off-the-shelf video training. The men who originally tested as most likely to harass tested with a more negative attitude toward women after training.
What can make a difference?
Putting diversity training in an overall system. In 2016, Katrina Berzukova, Chester Spell and Karen Jehn analyzed over 260 diversity studies to determine the impact training might have. They found that if you want behavior change, not just an intellectual exercise, you need to embed training into the company’s ecosystem. Mentoring groups, social networks, and integration into a broader curriculum demonstrate the organization is committed to an inclusive environment. And that reinforces inclusiveness in your culture.
Mandatory medicine. Berzukova and her colleagues also found that required training is more effective than voluntary. This speaks to the fact that we don’t know we’re biased and might be blind to how we behave. It took court action to integrate schools, and legislative action to allow women to own property and vote. These decisions were controversial at the time but now we have generations of people who can’t imagine the world any other way. We’ve normalized to a higher standard.
If you want a wonderful eye-opener to your own unconscious bias, check out Fons Trompenaars’ work on something we all share: seven common dilemmas. These problems are universally uncomfortable, and our response to them is shaped by our culture.
Ongoing training. One standalone course creates the impression that diversity training is a compliance issue and that, once the class is complete, a legal requirement has been addressed. According the research, periodic training conducted over time reinforces the company’s commitment to its values, and signals that those in authority believe this is what is right.
Physical changes to the work environment. Historically, orchestras were dominantly male. This was because the director personally hired the musicians. This began to change in the 1950’s when orchestras began to involve members in the selection process. But what revolutionized the gender balance in today’s orchestras was blind auditions – having the musician play behind a screen so those evaluating them would have to judge the music alone.
According to Claudia Goldin & Cecilia Rouse, “…the transition to blind auditions from 1970 to the 1990s can explain 30 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and possibly 25 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras.”
Measures. Data can indicate whether the overall system is what you intend. Take a clear-eyed look at your demographics, complaints, compensation, job applications. These can tell you who your environment attracts and what gets rewarded.
We belong to families, communities, interest groups, and companies. In a divisive world, our company can be a powerful unifier. Accomplishing this takes focused thought and design that reaches beyond the classroom. It’s easy to think that such steps won’t work. But they already have. After all, now we can use a Starbucks restroom without buying a venti triple no-foam latte.
A Performance Dip Is Not InevitableAfter a big change, does performance have to suffer? No. Here’s how to help.
Everyone knows when change occurs in an organization – when people stop working the old way and start using the new way — there will be a performance dip. In my early days as a consultant, I even taught clients about the typical “J” curve or the “Valley of Despair,” as it was called. We had that conversation as a project started, so the client would know what to expect: a temporary loss, then improvement, then a new stability.
But, is that true? Do companies have to experience a downturn before realizing the benefits of the change? Stated another way, can they afford a drop in performance? Maybe they could in the business world of yesterday, when the pace of change was slower, and the change cycles were longer and less frequent. But today’s reality is one of constant change. To compete companies must be nimble; they don’t have time for a trip through The Valley of Despair.
If your company can’t afford the dip, and you agree that it’s not inevitable, how do you avoid it? You must help your teams strengthen as they climb. Imagine an experienced mountain climber. Each time he tackles a new mountain, he gets stronger and more skillful. In fact, he might become faster and better at climbing as he goes. In between trips, he stabilizes and carefully plans his next ascent. He is moving upward, and only upward – getting only better by building on previous experiences.
Your organization needs that “perform, plan, scale” mindset. Most change comes in stages or waves, and as you plan for the next change, help your team strengthen their performance. In other words, use each change to get better at change. Your tools are high expectations, clear communication, and thoughtful planning and execution.
Another tool at your disposal is momentum. Successful change has an expiration date – it’s essential to achieve momentum – early wins or positive impacts on the business — within 90 days. Engineering successes demonstrates legitimacy to the wider organization. If you don’t get that – if you miss the 90-day window — the early energy and commitment can taper off. Keep the “Do it in 90!” rule central to your plans.
Looking back on my earlier years as a consultant, teaching clients to expect a performance dip, I realize I was taking the easy way out. The drop in performance does happen, but it’s also an excuse, used when the change doesn’t show benefits immediately. Don’t get me wrong, change is not easy, and you won’t always get it right the first time, but if you actively manage the change and expectations – yours and those of the organization – you can keep moving upward.
- Managing change is about getting to benefits as soon as possible.
- The organization can get stronger and better at change during the change and while planning the next ascent.
- Momentum has an expiration date. You have 90 days to make a positive impact and demonstrate that the change is legitimate. If we miss the window, we’ve lost the upward energy. Do it in 90!