The goals and processes of your organization, whatever it is, are changing constantly.
But the “future of work” is here, and the next 5-10 years are likely to bring an accelerated and potentially extraordinary amount of change—technologically, of course, and also because employment relationships are being completely redefined. Your ability to help people adapt to this change will determine how agile and adaptive your organization is and its ability to retain top talent.
The change management process is critical because it involves helping employees prepare for a new reality that systemically touches so many aspects of their lifecycle—how they’re hired and onboarded; how they experience their work environment; how they are developed, promoted, skilled and reskilled; how their contributions are valued and assessed; and how they’re off-boarded.
Following are four tips for getting it right.
Consider Your Audience
A common mistake in 21st century corporate America is to focus on a technology integration and neglect the human element. That’s because, while a new technology may be complex, there’s only one way to communicate it. But if you’re trying to get 5,000 people excited about a new technology, you’ve got maybe 5,000 different points of view.
When you’re introducing a new technology, consider the different segments of your audience.
You should be introducing it to people differently based on their role or department. How is this technology going to affect them at work? What’s going to get them excited about it? What’s going to intimidate them about it? This is human-centered communication. Put yourself in the shoes of your employees, and build the message from there.
Personalize the Work Experience
The digital “thumbs up, thumbs down” world we live in has led people to expect a customized experience — and this applies to your employees as much as it does to your customers.
The organization of the future is both customized and “self-actualized.” In other words, people are empowered with technology, and decision-making is pushed to the frontlines. It’s a more agile work environment, and the leadership model is about driving more empowerment and autonomy rather than commanding, controlling and owning resources.
The many generations simultaneously in the workforce—Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z—have divergent life experiences, motivations and communication needs. This leads to some messaging complexity. How do you get Gen Z excited about a retirement plan when, in their minds, they’re only going to be working for you for three years, and they’re going to live another 100 years? This is where we get into a distributed model of benefits, like a cafeteria-style menu. But it means that you’ve got to ask more questions. Collect feedback.
People crave this individualized, customized experience—and not just when it comes to their benefits package.
People want to know that they can move up in an organization but also laterally. They want the ability to take on projects that interest them, even if the project isn’t happening in their department. They want to learn new skills. In short, they want a taste of the gig economy within the organization where they work (which I discuss extensively in my book, The Inside Gig).
Companies that dive into this complexity, as opposed to looking the other way, will thrive. And companies that can manage multiple generations at one time and help their people make it through this new way of working will be the ones that win in the future of work.
Communicate to Integrate
Communication is so essential to change management that it’s difficult to even think of them as separate things. But let’s look at a common example of a communication breakdown. For example, suppose there’s an acquisition. The company spends a lot of time on the front end, and integrations fail. Then management wonders why. Meanwhile, it turns out they signed the paperwork and thought everything was done. But the real work begins when you’re trying to integrate new people into your workplace culture.
You have to help the new people understand the strategy and feel invited to be part of the department or business.
Make sure you build a variety of communication channels, so the information is available in different formats and in different places.
If someone’s job is being automated, that’s scary. Your job is to help them determine how the new path leads to opportunity.
In corporate America, we don’t always do a good job of tailoring the message appropriately. Especially if we’re talking about human beings in the workforce who are being impacted negatively, how you approach that audience is really important—right down to the individual. What you’re trying to do, in most cases, is create alignment about the problem statement.
Tailor the message. Come to your audience with prepared recommendations, solutions and opportunities already lined up. How you help people determine a way out is key.
Ultimately, successful change management is about treating people as individuals—working to understand who they are and what their needs are—in every circumstance. It’s all too easy to default into thinking about (and treating) people as groups in the workplace. But in the future of work, that’s not good enough.