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Change Management – Which Way Do You Go?

December 22, 2022

By Tom Jackson, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

If you look around the business world today, you will find that all companies are changing and evolving whether it is implementing an integration of digital transformation plans, DEI programs, company culture initiatives, remote worker programs, or changes in organizational structure. You name it – there is a plethora of other changes occurring as well.

It doesn’t really matter what the change initiative is, all that matters is, did the initiative make your company better and are the rank and file employees more satisfied and productive with the change than they were before the change? There are two mainstream ways to initiate and manage change: the Top Down Method and the Open Source approach.

Top Down

When reviewing the “Top Down Method”, it was determined by Gartner, in a recent survey, that more than 80% of organizations manage change from the top down. This typically means that senior leaders exclusively make strategic decisions, create implementation plans, and then roll out organization wide communication to gain workforce buy-in. This straightforward strategy once enabled rapid change because organizations were largely vertical; leaders held all the key information, and the workforce was structured in clear, hierarchical reporting lines. In that environment, top-down change strategies mirrored organizations’ structure and workflow.

But with changes in how companies operate, this method is only showing a success rate of 34%. Meaning, the majority of change initiatives are failing. This is because:

  • Organizations have more complex, matrixed reporting lines and interdependencies.
  • Employees have more access to information about their jobs, business environment, and each other.

The upshot? Top-down change strategies are fundamentally disconnected from today’s workflow, and they’re slowing organizations down. 66% of CHROs are dissatisfied with the speed of change implementation. Organizations need a better path forward in this evolving change environment.

Open Source

This is why companies are looking to the Open Source approach to change. Utilizing open-source change allows companies to change more quickly. The workforce is more engaged, and employees are more likely to stay.

This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, open-source change strategies are, by definition, more inclusive of expertise and different perspectives, closer to the actual workflow and constantly evolving through collective action.

When top-down changes fail to work, leaders most often blame the workforce. Yet 64% of employees already possess the skills required to change successfully, and 74% say they are willing to support the change. Despite this, only one-quarter of employees are able to change the way they work when managed from the top down.

So, if you would like to boost the success of your change initiatives, implement these elements into your strategy:

Co-create change strategy. Leaders recognize the value of employees’ input regarding customer needs and how work is done on the ground. However, while 74% of leaders say they involved employees in creating change strategy, only 42% of employees feel they were truly included. Leaders fear being overwhelmed by opinions when deadlines have to be met, so they typically set change strategies and solicit employee feedback after decisions have been made. But solicitation is not co-creation.

Shifting implementation planning to employees. This can boost the probability of change success by 12%. Successful organizations empower employees to experiment with solutions and new ideas but also set guardrails to prevent actions from derailing the change.

Focus communication on “talking,” not “telling.” Most organizations communicate change from the top down. Leaders frame change as a positive story to get employee buy-in, and they tell it frequently to drive understanding. But telling — or, at times, commanding — employees does not drive understanding or commitment to change. Instead, top-down communication actually reduces employees’ understanding of change down the line and increases employee anger, anxiety, and resistance toward the change.

By applying open-source principles to change management, organizations can increase their probability of change success from 34% to 58%.

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