Data is king. This is especially in current times of uncertainty. With data comes power, influence and outcomes. Lots of disciplines have leveraged the power of data to drive better outcomes. Marketers would not dream of doing any part of their job without data. Operations is driven by data in all aspects of managing the business. Even Human Resources is heavily focused on numbers, pay and benefits, employee sizes and structures, cultural measurements and employee sentiment trends.
For change management data must also be the core pillar that drives our work.
Unfortunately for a lot of practitioners the only data used tends to be sizing number of people impacted, counting the number of people being trained, training evaluation scores or change readiness sentiment surveys.
Surely, there is more we can do to adopt a more data-driven change approach?
Absolutely! Stay tuned for our upcoming article on how to do this.
In the meantime, here is an infographic on painting a picture of what a data-driven change environment looks like.
There are 8 core components:
Focus on capturing initiative and portoflio-wide data
Data-driven change approach throughout project phases
Take user/business centric versus project centric view
Investing in data insight capability building
Leader sponsorhip in data-led investment and focus
Collaboration/Openness to share data
Using data in routine business/project meetings
Incorporate data governance within roles and responsibilities
The past 1.5 years has been super challenging for most organisations. The constant stop and start interruptions of Covid has taken a toll on most employees. One minute we are going back to work the next minute we are not. One minute we have Covid cases under control, the next minute infection rates are out of control.
However, corporate initiatives are not in any way slowed down by Covid. If anything there is more organisational change resulting from Covid. Covid has not only resulted in ways of working changes, but also deep industry, economy, consumer and technology changes.
Now that most economies are starting to come out of lockdowns and opening up, what does this mean for initiatives? Well, amidst the atmosphere of the emotional and psycho-social turmoil that has been the journey for most employees as a result of COVID, the most important change approach can be summarised by one word ….
Why is it important to incorporate a sense of optimism within every change initiative?
After more than a year of being isolated and experiencing the various disruptions of not being able to have a normal life of shopping, visiting friends and travelling, we need to acknowledge and reset the mood. How we approach work is indeed affected by the overall mood around us. Resetting the mood and instilling a sense of positivity and optimism is absolutely critical.
Without optimism, employees may still be harbouring the lingering mood of dealing with Covid. Negativity will never help to transition people during the change process. It is hope and optimism that will carry energy and excitement which will then drive action.
Think of the last time you were feeling down and weary. What were some of your behaviours? Typical behaviours when you’re feeling down in the dumps include not connecting with family and friends, being socially withdrawn, disruptions in sleep, being less physically active, etc. You were also more likely to think negatively, such as “things won’t get better”, “there’s no point trying”, “might as well not try”. These are definitely not the thoughts and behaviours that will help people transition during the change process.
So how do we instil a sense of optimism within our change initiatives?
1. Celebrate the ‘return to normal’ (whatever normal looks like!). As companies start to gradually have employees return to work, initiatives must also support this by creating a sense of excitement and positivity. Think of approaches such as:
Uplifting speeches by leaders
Gift objects such as cupcakes and drinks as a part of the celebration theme
Online events promoting positive discussions and sharing
Social events fostering activity and excitement
2. Highlight new ideas and approaches to the initiative. To demonstrate that things are no longer just ‘ho-hum’ as was the case during Covid, adopt new engagement and communication approaches to liven up the initiative. Even better, ask impacted stakeholders to come up with bright ideas of how to generate a renewed sense of optimism
3. Leverage the power of communication to impart excitement and positivity. Incorporate bright and colourful images, quotes and graphic themes to instil positive energy.
4. Display consistent behaviour. There is nothing worse than having positive themes throughout, only to have initiative leads speak with monotone voice supplemented by lethargic behaviour. We are social animals. We can ‘smell’ low energy. You may need to proactive coach your leaders to ensure that they are displaying the right behaviours across all modalities …. The tone of voice, gestures, responses, reactions, etc. All aspects of behaviour can impart mood. And your job is to design and shape them to be one that is more positive.
Adopting a behavioural science approach to managing change means leveraging scientific research about human behaviours and using this to better manage change. A lot of the common practices in change management are not always based on scientific research. What is assumed as common change approaches may in fact not be substantiated by research and data.
We talk to an industry veteran of behavioural science, Tony Salvador. Tony has 30+ years of research background behind him and a long-time ex-Inteller and Senior Fellow. At Intel, Tony travelled around the globe researching human factors and how people behave with technology.
There are many valuable takeaways for the change practitioner.
Some of these include:
Engineering psychology and human centric design
Analogy of pickaxe and the change approach
Principle of aversion to loss
People involvement and transactional change
Determining the nature of leadership relationship with employees
Story telling and insight into change culture
Example of Brazilian translator and people’s stories
Power of observation and listening
The nature of relationships and how they determine change
Change rationale in weaving in multiple changes
Involving people in reporting to achieve authenticity
Building the case and involving employees to derive case for change
Change practitioners usually classify different change impacts into people, process, technology and customer. Then, there is a great effort and focus placed on describing exactly what the change is from a project or program perspective. These can include the processes changes, and how different the new process is going to be compared to the current process.
However, adopting a user-centric view of change impact is critical.
Often what is seen as impact can be very very different from what is experienced by the end-user. Let’s take a few examples.
When a project is ‘rolled out’. There are can be a lot of different impacted audience factors to consider. These can include:
Length of service
Availability of support staff
Availability of effective 2-way communication platforms
Effective learning and development processes in place
Functional skill sets
So depending on how these factors determine the impact of the change on groups of individuals, identified specific impacts can be different. In the change impact assessment process, these should be carefully teased out and identified explicitly. Even how we express the names of the impacts should consider how the changes are perceived.
For example, is an impact ‘Team Leader briefing team members about the new process’ or ‘Weekly team meeting to discuss new process changes’? The initial wording is more focused on the new process, whereas the latter one illustrates that there can be various changes discussed in the meeting. So as a result, practitioners need to be open to the environment in which their messages will be delivered and through this better position and clarify the meaning of the change from the team’s perspective. E.g. can this change be delivered as a bundle with other process changes?
In a recent example, a person is understood by the organisation to be undergoing 6 separate initiatives each with their various impacts. Each initiative has fleshed out the various project impacts and these are listed and planned explicitly. However, this is from the organisation’s perspective. In fact, what the individual is undergoing is quite different.
There are changes that the team or division is undergoing that are not always taken into consideration such as people or team changes. On top of this there are also seasonal workload impacts from the likes of end of financial year, audits or pre-holiday season workload. On top of this, there are also various Covid considerations to take into account – the mother of all changes at the moment. Lockdown and social distancing have profound impacts on individuals leading to physical and psychological health impacts.
Ever since the epidemic began people have started to suffer mental health issues. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, recent studies have shown that 42% of employees globally have experienced a decline in mental health since the commencement of Covid. This is not a surprise given that governments have routinely locked-down populations to ensure safety and contain the spread of the virus. For change practitioners driving change initiatives within this context, it is hard to ignore these facts.
However, a lot of change practitioners are advised to steer clear of any mental health issues since they are not health practitioners and not qualified to deal with mental health issues. This may be true. However, just because change practitioners cannot advise on dealing with individuals with mental health issues, this does not mean that their approaches cannot take mental health into consideration. In fact, if a significant portion of the employee population have experienced reduced mental health, this needs to be taken into account and not ignored. Ignoring the facts can mean unsuccessful change outcomes.
So how can change practitioners take into account mental health issues affecting employees so that they are still able to drive successful initiatives?
Common mental health issues
Firstly, let’s look closer at common mental health issues impacting employees during the pandemic.
Anxiety and Depression
A recent report found that a quarter of 10-24-year-olds in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said that they had seriously considered suicide. Other surveys consistently show significant increases in anxiety and depressive disorders and correspond with pandemic trends.
Symptoms of anxiety can range from insomnia, panic attacks, feeling of apprehension, or impending doom, and breathlessness. Anxiety symptoms can also be less physically pronounced such as sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Symptoms of depression can include difficulty finding joy and difficulty in engaging in normal activities, low energy, declined appetite, hopelessness, and that everything seems an effort.
For a section of the population, it may be that they are not feeling severe enough to be diagnosed as being depressed or anxious in a clinical sense. However, it does not mean that their mental health states are optimal. The New York Times labelled this ‘feeling blah’ as ‘languishing’ and that it could be the dominant emotion of 2021. Languishing is the in-between level of the optimal level of mental health and suffering from mental health illness.
People were not feeling burnt out of depressed per se. However, there’s less of the usual excitement, hope and joy in their usual daily lives. Recently I visited my medical practitioner and he commented that of his patients most are suffering various medical conditions and that there are definitely a lot more reports of mental health concerns. People who experience this may not even report it nor even notice it. First comes fewer social interactions, then comes increasing solitude and even isolation.
Incorporating mental health concerns in change delivery tactics
The first step to take in incorporating people’s mental health concerns in change delivery is to openly acknowledge this. A lot of corporate communications functions would much prefer to not touch anything that is even remotely negative. However, acknowledging what people are going through builds trust and connection. Ignoring the elephant in the room will not help to engage employees. It is not that this needs to be the front-and-centre of the communication messaging. However, mentioning that there may be employees suffering from mental health issues can be the first step in building improved connections and confront the stigma.
This is especially important if you are driving an initiative that will have a significant impact on employees. If you are requiring employees to undergo significant impact whilst they may be battling with mental health issues, then addressing it head-on is critical.
Role model and sharing of experiences
The initiative sponsor and various change champions can be leveraged to share their personal experiences in dealing with mental health concerns. This helps to de-stigmatize mental health in the workplace and open up the discussion of people’s challenges. During forums, town halls, or even in articles or newsletters, the sponsor can share his/her own experiences in dealing with mental health issues. The trick is to be candid and open. This helps to foster trust with the employees.
Picking up on cues when engaging with individual stakeholders
When working with various stakeholders it helps to establish routine of ‘checking-in’ to sense-check the mental status of everyone prior to starting the meeting. This helps to level-set everyone’s mental status prior to diving into work discussions and helps everyone to understand how others are doing, thereby creating connectivity and inclusiveness.
If you pick up particular cues that the stakeholder may be suffering from mental health issues check-in individually with them to see if they are doing ok. Then, connect them to any company resources available such as employee assistance programs.
Map out the initiatives that impact them – prioritise and sequence.
Mapping out the various initiatives that impact the stakeholder group is one of the most strategic tactics in this list. It means taking an end-user perspective and plotting out all the various initiatives and changes that impact them. Taking this end-user, and design thinking approach, we are not just concerned about the particular initiative that we are driving, but all the various initiatives that the person is/will be experiencing.
During times of change fatigue, it may be that proactive intervention may be required to better prioritise and sequence the change rollout to manage the capacity of the impacted stakeholders. To read up on how to do this refer to the following article:
Different employee groups may be experiencing different needs and challenges. Those with children and that are dealing with childcare challenges during the working day may be experiencing different mental health challenges than those who are singles. Singles may be more inclined to feel isolated and disconnected with limited social support.
By creating different segments, you can position communication messages to better target those audience groups. These are some ideas of potential change tactics for different employee groups:
Employees with children and/or dependents – Offering flexibility in selecting time slots for training sessions, or record any town hall sessions in case they were interrupted during the session
Fully remote workers – Scheduling engagement sessions that involve facilitated discussions on personal experiences in the broader sense beyond just the initiative itself
Non-remote workers – Organising virtual sessions for non-remote workers to connect with remote workers to foster greater connection
Managers – Organise engagement sessions with managers that include content on dealing with employees on mental health issues as a part of the overall manager engagement session content
As a part of the overall change tactic of successfully implementing the initiative, it makes sense to measure and track employee sentiments. A typical change readiness assessment survey may be supplemented by items on employee mental health. This will help to proactively assess the extent of the mental health challenge for employees and how they may impact the extent to which the initiative could be successful. Survey findings may be socialised with leaders to derive subsequent strategies to tackle the issues.
Surveys do not need to be long and exhaustive. A common digital practice for applications is short, and sharp pulse ratings that only have a few items. Having frequent pulse surveys also helps to assess the development of the issues at hand and to what extent employee sentiments are as anticipated.