How to lead change in the workplace

Organizations must understand not only the barriers to successful workplace change, but also the different approaches to leadership and employee engagement.

December 14, 2016

Change is difficult. Staff work habits and workplace arrangements hold great unspoken power in the social structure of the office. However, the rapid evolution of technology means that work structures have to be flexible and nimble to ensure business continuity and profitability. With talent scarcity and an increased focus on collaboration, the process of facilitating change needs to be closely managed to reduce anxiety that will detract the staff members’ ability to do their jobs. Organizations must understand not only the barriers to successful workplace change, but also the different approaches to leadership and employee engagement.

What are the five steps to leading a successful workplace change?

Get endorsement from the leadership

Plans for workplace change must first be endorsed at the leadership level before a company can embark on a transformational journey. To build a robust and relevant business case for workplace change, start by asking (and answering) these important questions:

  • What are the business drivers?
  • How does the business case align with the business vision?
  • What are the benefits beyond cost savings?
  • Are the metrics and goals well-defined and aligned with the overall business objectives?

According to ManpowerGroup’s , 46 percent of Asia Pacific employers have difficulty filling jobs because of a lack of suitable talent, compared with 40 percent globally. In this era of talent scarcity, another way to enlist leadership endorsement is to build on a business case that is centered on talent attraction and retention. This is likely to be more effective, given that millennial employees in Asia tend to put a lot of emphasis on technology and workplace factors when deciding on potential employers.

Take employees on a journey

A report by JLL, titled Driving effective workplace change in Asia highlights employee resistance as one of the biggest barriers to implementing change. Notably, two factors can be linked to employee resistance: the employees’ appetite for change and their ability for change. Ability arises from the required enablers of change such as the environment, technology, processes and hard skills; appetite is dependent on the employee’s willingness to adopt change.

Successful workplace change happens in an environment where there is strong appetite and ability for innovation change. Understanding the reasons behind your employees’ resistance to change can allow you to identify gaps and work toward bringing your organization to a successful workplace change journey—be it through workshops, trainings or new processes.

Beat the multicultural challenge

Cultural factors must be kept in mind when designing a change program, especially when it will be implemented across different cultural and geographic locations. Understanding how culture influences values in the workplace can help to articulate the difference between cultures, and enables you to tailor an approach to a change initiative accordingly. For example, how to communicate and make a case for change will differ from Tokyo to Sydney, and from Shanghai to Mumbai.

One size isn’t always the right size

When it comes to change initiatives, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The context dictates the situation—what works for another company may not necessarily work for your organization. Your business, culture and people will shape the required change strategy.

For instance, one of the most frequently asked question is whether change should be incremental or transformative. The option that an organization adopts will depend on multiple factors. In an environment where time is a constraint and there is broad support for the change program, transformational change can be considered. In the case of limited resources and a general lack of a need for change, implementing small steps over time may be the best option.

A tailored workplace change approach is imperative because it ensures that your strategy aligns with the business objectives, adds real and measurable value, can be implemented successfully, and is sustainable.

Execute from beginning to end

Having a solid workplace strategy is the first place to start, but it isn’t enough. Regardless of how good the strategy is, it must be implemented and managed effectively to create a sustainable workplace change.

While preparation and planning are critical to a successful change process, some key factors to keep in mind during execution include:

  • Measurability of the value that the change adds to your organization
  • Flexibility of the strategy to adapt to cultural variances
  • Robustness of the change management program to accelerate adoption and establish a smooth transition