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All Aboard! The key to organisational change lies in stakeholder engagement

All Aboard! The key to successfull organisational change lies in stakeholder engagement.

Organisations across the globe are operating in a changing landscape. As the rate of change gets faster, the disruption caused is dramatically reshaping how they function, putting increased pressure on business leaders to ensure their businesses and people can be just as flexible.

Although leaders envision and drive change, its success is highly dependent on the advocacy of stakeholders: staff, investors, partners and even consumers.

It is the link between strategic decision-making and effective execution, between individual motivation and product innovation, and between delighted customers and growing revenues. Engaging stakeholders with organisational change is therefore a ‘must-do’ rather than a ‘nice-to-do’ activity.

There are countless benefits to be gained when people spread across functional and business unit boundaries collaborate. Bringing a wider range of perspectives can only boost idea generation and the development of new practices. Research shows that highly engaged employees also tend to be more supportive of organisational change initiatives and are more resilient in the face of change (for example, Holbeche & Matthews, 2012; Hodges, 2016). Organisational change should, therefore, be constructed or negotiated with rather than to stakeholders, whenever feasible.

But how can managers instil a culture of high engagement and encourage stakeholders to actively engage in change within organisations?

In my latest book Employee Engagement for Organisational Change: The Theory and Practice of Stakeholder Engagement, I have identified eight key actions that will enable success:

1. Identify levels of involvement

It is important for managers to first consider whether it is appropriate to seek the input of all stakeholders for the decision or development at hand.

2. Review how to engage people in change

It is important to influence, motivate and inspire stakeholders to want to do what needs to be done and devote discretionary effort to it willingly, even eagerly. Doing this requires managers to have some familiarity with their staff and stakeholders’ interests; to what extent do you know what motivates and inspires each of your team members, both collectively and individually, in their everyday work and in times of uncertainty and change?

3. Co-create change

The co-creation of organisational change can be developed by setting up working groups with representatives from different departments and grades – for instance, a change group with a specific role such as pulling together communications. However, these must be genuine attempts, not just tick exercises, to ensure the views of the organisation are represented and that staff ideas and concerns are truly heard.

4. Be clear on negotiables and non-negotiables

There is a need to be very clear with stakeholders from the outset about what is within their power to shape with organisational change, what is not up for negotiation and, most importantly, why. This will not only help keep idea generation on the right track but also help with managing expectations, understanding and acceptance of the decisions which need to be made without their input.

5. Use various communication channels

Employees should be given the space and support they need to speak up and share their views, ideas and concerns. Managers should review how they engage people through various forms of communication such as staff meetings and drop-in sessions (not just emails) to give people the space to ask questions and get answers directly.

6. Demonstrate that you listen to stakeholders’ views

Managers should take the necessary time to listen to stakeholders and provide relevant feedback. For example, “You said..., we did...” If it is not possible to take action based on their views and ideas, then managers must explain this giving a reason why so that stakeholders do not feel overlooked or ignored.

7. Identify relevant behaviours

Managers need to identify behaviour that indicates a lack of engagement or opposition to the change, discuss these behaviours with the individuals concerned and address the issues which may be concerning them. These could be core concerns such as job security, financial impact, work relationships, levels of responsibility and learning and development needs, which people are reluctant to identify in group discussions and managers would be ill-advised to ignore.

8. Review how you respond to personal concerns and reactions

Managers should not just assume that others will view the need for change in the same way they do as employees at different levels of an organisation and with different experiences will have different perspectives and ideas about what needs to change. Some may even highlight issues unknown to senior-level staff. Stakeholders must be provided with opportunities to share their views in organisational-wide conversations throughout the change process.

Not only do many of these steps require a significant review of company policies and procedures to be successfully embedded within an organisation’s culture, they also require a significant amount of rethinking by managers on their communications styles, perspectives and even their leadership skills. Many leaders struggle when it comes to managing change, especially if it affects people. Retraining, though daunting, is just as vital for those leading the change as the ones expected to follow it.

To this end we have launched a number of free and easily accessible online learning programmes aimed at supporting managers through the transition. Our MOOC in Leading and Managing People-Centred Change shows managers first how to cope with rapidly emerging new technologies and trends that are transforming the workplace, before considering how they can engage and involve others in the change process.

The course also considers how managers can drive change ethically and what to do if a change initiative starts to fail.

Change does not need to be overwhelming if it effectively engages key stakeholders.

DR JULIE HODGES
Dr Julie Hodges, Associate Professor & Associate Dean for MBA Programmes, is a leading expert on organisational change and the author of several books including: Sustaining Change in Organisations, Managing and Leading People Through Organisational Change, Consultancy, Organisational Development and Change. Her latest book is Employee Engagement for Organisational Change (published in 2018 by Routledge).

This article was first published in IMPACT magazine in January 2019.