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Posted by on Feb 7, 2014 in Business, company culture, Culture, Featured, Strategy | 1 comment

Why Your Employees Aren’t Helping You Change

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Here’s some startling news: More than 70% of change initiatives fail.

Before you write this off as either: 1) Not your problem (“mine don’t fail!”) or, 2) A bunch of bologna (aka — sensationalist, first-line attention-grabbing antics!), let me tell you something: it’s true – only 30% succeed. You don’t need to take my word for it, though. According to both Harvard Business Review’s, Cracking the Code of Change, and Gallup Business Journal’s, Most Change Initiatives Fail – But They Don’t Have To, this 70% failure rate stands as the norm. But, there’s more: the HBR article was written in 2000, the Gallup article written in 2013. What does this tell us? Something hasn’t changed, and it’s not just change initiatives.

Here’s my question: who do you blame when initiatives tank?

Here are your choices — you blame:

A) The frontline: the ones tasked with executing the new change priority; or

B) The leadership: the ones deciding to put the change priority on the table.

If you’re a frontline employee chances are you chose B) blame the bosses, and the people at the top making decisions and deciding priorities. They’re supposed to know what’s best, and if the execution of that doesn’t go well, it’s really an error of foresight and understanding of reality — in your mind, anyway.

If you’re part of group B) — a boss, making decisions and deciding priorities — you most likely chose A) blame frontline employees, the ones (in your mind) that are actually talking to customers’ and delivering the experience or the change initiative.

Who do you blame when initiatives tank? It’s not as simple as pitting decision makers against the frontline workforce; nor is it fair to blame one or the other. It’s a shared failure.

You’re Both Right

Of course, it’s not as simple as pitting decision makers against the frontline workforce; nor is it fair to blame one or the other. It’s a shared failure. But, before we let both parties off the hook, let’s look at what could be causing the failure – a rarely heard of, and oft unacknowledged reality: The Boomerang Effect.

The Boomerang Effect

According to a Booz & Co. study, Culture’s Role in Enabling Organizational Change, one of the biggest reasons employees can’t carry out new initiatives successfully is what they call “The Boomerang Effect”.

According to Booz, the Boomerang Effect is defined as, leaderships’ part in, and commitment to, change initiatives. It’s leadership’s tendency to move on to the next big thing quickly after introducing the current big thing —  the failure to stay focused on, and stick with one change initiative for a sustained period of time.

For a frontline employee or manager, the Boomerang Effect is the frustration felt when they are tasked to stick with a priority that’s not resourced or aligned; it’s overwhelming, and according to Booz, employees become fatigued by all the changes of direction, and the pile up of “priorities”. Here is an example.

Employees become fatigued by all the changes of direction, and the pile up of “priorities”

Typically, around any change effort, there is an initial spike of tangible energy, and change, but when leadership loses interest, the momentum of change slows down drastically.

Think Campaign, not Boomerang

The fatigue that’s associated with the Boomerang Effect is real, and something to guard against. If you’re serious about rolling out change, think along these lines:

  • Think Campaign, not multiple initiatives. Campaign thinking is in it for the long-haul. Everything is aligned to the campaign. Everything non-essential, not contributing to the campaign, is halted. Priorities are few, but they are focused.
  • Focus on employee training and development. For employees, it’s always great to be invested in and it deepens their commitment to the job they’re doing and to the company. Align a new initiative from the inside out: employees new skills will be the catalyst and direction for a change initiative, rather than the other way around.
  • Work toward outcomes that use “numbers” as indicators, not absolutes. This helps focus more on a successful customer outcome rather than just a successful number.
  • Practice Message Discipline around the campaign. Consistently send a clear message to employees that the same three priorities are still the same three priorities, and the company is backing up that commitment.

Typically, around any change effort, there is an initial spike of tangible energy, and change, but when leadership loses interest, the momentum of change slows down drastically.

Above all, persist. Once you’ve made a decision to drive in a particular direction, stick with it. Momentum takes time to build. Constant shifts and changes will kill any momentum you gain. Worse,

  • Morale amongst employees and trust in leadership shifts downwards dramatically.
  • Employees will hesitate to buy into the next big, world-changing, initiative.
  • The initiative will be a waste of everybody’s time and money.
  • The initiative won’t work.

As a leader, don’t underestimate your influence and impact on employees and, in fact, how much your sustained commitment to change will determine success. As an employee, don’t underestimate the amount that your energy and willingness play into the success of change; if you are too overwhelmed to be an active, productive part of change, identify it and talk it out with your leadership.

Boomerangs may be fun in the park, but they’re not fun for anybody in the workplace.
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Image credit: shock77 / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Tara Paluck

Tara is Customer Experience Research Lead at fassforward Consulting Group. She blogs about Customer Experience at uncustomeryexperience.com. You can follow her on twitter @TaraPaluck.

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  • http://www.bensimonton.com/ Ben Simonton

    Tara, the cause of change failures is always the same. The cause is that management has created a workforce of mostly not engaged or actively disengaged employees, a workforce believing it is disrespected and not valued.

    This is what occurs when management views its job is to do its best to get the work done. This view results in the issuance of goals, targets, orders, directives, visions, mission statements, value statements, and rewards including the formation of a bureaucracy for enforcement of them. Since no one likes being told what to do and prizes reasonable autonomy to do their work, these managerial actions tend to demotivate, demoralize, and disengage the workforce. So this is the root cause.

    If management decides to stop attempting to direct and control the work and to start helping employees be the best they can be, the opposite result occurs and change becomes easy and enthusiastically embraced by all. I did it and so have others.