Employee connectedness and engagement are non-negotiable components of success. Employees who know that their organization values them are more motivated and productive, and they exert a more positive impact on the organization’s bottom line.
It’s one thing to foster employee connectedness and engagement when operations are humming along. It’s another challenge altogether when big change is afoot.
When major change comes knocking at your door, consider your people first and foremost. While processes and technology are important, people are the first root fundamental of change adoption for good reason: Your people carry the flag of any transformation.
Today’s disconnection ethos, one of the greatest threats to corporate success, makes paying attention to people first especially challenging—and essential. I’ve always believed that people buy from people. When you’re selling change, the right interactions with your “customers”—your employees—makes the sale. That’s why change initiative adoption strategies need to include demonstrable investments in employee success.
Here are four ways to do that:
- Seek employee input, incorporate their input in your initiative and get their buy-in beyond “yes” from the get-go.
- Don’t stop at communicating the “what”: To achieve buy-in and self-accountability, communicate the “why” by showing employees how the initiative’s value stream benefits them personally and professionally.
- Foster human connections among peers and teams and throughout the chain of command by transitioning command and control governance to a lean model that gives teams more autonomy. Appropriate empowerment at all levels is a must.
- Reduce employee stress with interactive and experiential onboarding, then make it easy for people to ask for—and receive—support. Your investment in employee success will engender their investment in the transition.
Buy-in beyond “yes”
A major factor in failed transformations is lackluster buy-in. To obtain strong support for change and increase adoption, leaders need to establish clearly defined and measurable goals and objectives. They then need to communicate the goals and objectives to everyone involved in the change.
Communicating goals and objectives can’t appear to be an afterthought. For employees to truly feel valued, seek their input from the get-go and include their input in your plan. When people see their input reflected in a plan, their investment quotient increases dramatically. You get visceral employee buy-in well beyond a mere “yes.”
Execution must also get team buy-in. Because incremental changes are easier for people to accept and adopt, they are key to successful change initiatives. When incremental changes align execution with strategy, people see the value of each change to their work, thus reducing resistance.
Self-accountability: Pointing a finger at yourself
As a kid, I was taught that if I point a finger at someone, three fingers will point back at me. I’ve taken this lesson to heart in my personal and professional life: Individual and team self-accountability makes all the difference in making change successful.
When coaching my team, one of my favorite questions is, “How will you hold yourself accountable for following through on an action?” In fact, I ask myself this all the time. The answer is simple: To feel truly accountable and follow through, understanding the “why” is the root of the matter. Simply put, accountability is another great reason to manage and communicate the value stream—and to show how it benefits employees personally and professionally.
Strategy vs execution: Where our people hit the road
I always say that PowerPoint is the architect’s tool of choice. A well-done presentation eloquently shows an ideal future state that always works. The presentation clearly defines a strategy, the solutions that support it, and ingenious processes to drive adoption.
Everything looks perfect on the slides, but we often see a divide between strategy and execution. It’s the age-old tension between strategy’s “should” and reality’s “did.” When people get down to execution, reality can take a firm grip, slowly and sometimes painfully hampering or even suffocating progress. People, in other words, are the wild card—unpredictable and not easily controlled—which is yet another reason to focus on people. Another go-to Harvard Business Review article [https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/strategy-execution] outlines keys to successful execution:
- Commit to a strategic plan that all decision makers and stakeholders agree on.
- Align jobs to strategy and ensure the correct functions execute the tasks.
- Communicate clearly to empower your people.
- Measure, monitor and communicate performance.
- Balance innovation and control.
If we know the keys to successful execution, why don’t they work 100% of the time? Let’s consider each key:
- Commit to a strategic plan that all decision makers and stakeholders agree on. In value stream management (VSM), the process leading from concept to cash flow, stakeholder trust in the strategy is a paramount issue. While everyone should agree on strategic intent, strategic execution and adoption need to be flexible enough to deal with contingencies. When you build contingencies into your execution plan, there’s less risk that they will blow up your initiative if contingencies actually occur.
- Align jobs to strategy and ensure the correct functions execute on the tasks. Employees’ job roles are seldom designed with strategic execution in mind, and while most strategic plans are always in flux, most job descriptions don’t evolve accordingly. When leaders define meaningful roles, manage value streams, continuously align activities to value, and foster top-down/bottom-up visibility and transparency at all levels, execution is smoother, more focused, and can pivot to align with market insights. When workflow aligns to VSM, backlog can be prioritized to accelerate execution and delivery of products that are most valuable to customers.
- Communicate clearly to empower your people. Studies show that 95% of employees don’t understand their company’s strategy or how particular initiatives align with it. Since execution depends on every employee completing their tasks, leaders need to communicate clearly and concisely the “what,” the “why” and the “how”—the way the current initiative aligns with overall company strategy. Most people pay attention to the value (the “why”) of an initiative and their role in achieving it. When we show people the impact and importance of their work, we empower them and give them a sense of accountability, which drives your company’s culture in the right direction.
- Monitor, measure and communicate performance. Both strategy and execution rely heavily on continuous assessment of incremental progress. Empirically measuring and communicating OKRs/KPIs demonstrate progress and your people’s positive impact. Continue to measure cost, time and scope KPIs, but concentrate on primary measures of success such as outcomes delivered to customers, topline growth that products deliver, customer satisfaction, benefits realized by customers, and increases in product adoption and revenue. An understanding of impact also drives just-in-time adjustments to execution. Pivoting any plan depends on access to relevant, accurate data that ensures the best decisions when reacting to changes. Employing lean VSM techniques and tools is the surest path to holistic data-driven insights that maximize value.
- Balance innovation and control. Change is constant. New possibilities and innovations can be a strong lever for execution, but they can easily derail it, too. Manage innovations via continuous evaluation and control. It’s essential to understand the negotiable and non-negotiable parts of your strategy and to make decisions based on that understanding.
A word on strategic portfolio management.
A stagnant strategy—one that does not evolve—cannot prosper. Strategic differentiation and evolution depend on formulating strategies based on empirical evidence drawn from our own corporate environment and the market environment where our enterprise lives. It also depends on our response to changes in those environments. Corporations rarely track portfolio investment at a granular enough level. Data-driven tracking of portfolio execution and progress against strategic intent allows us to spot appropriate investment opportunities.
Challenging the 30% success rule
McKinsey’s 2021 Global Survey notes that despite changes in economic climate, technology, and other factors over the years, the 30% success rate for transformations hasn’t budged.
By keeping people top of mind, we can challenge that rule and change the game.
I like to think of transformation in the context of traditional evolutionary theory. In the corporate version of natural selection, successful companies retain traits that enable the flexibility to transform and jettison traits that impede flexibility. When you identify, examine and communicate value streams—not just features and functions—and measure and communicate delivery success, teams focus more energy and time on what works and abandon what doesn’t. Simply put, VSM makes complex processes visible and ready to pivot, if needed, to drive more value.
Technology shifts allow companies to do things differently and become competitive, but they aren’t lasting changes—and they don’t promote the evolution of people, the heart and soul of any organization. Monitoring and leveraging data help you be vigilant and responsive to the market—but they don’t change your people.
On the other hand, getting buy-in beyond “yes” and creating a vibrant, inclusive corporate culture that clearly communicates the “why of the what” to the people accountable for execution will improve the flow of value to your organization and your customers. And that’s where success lives.
To my mind, the beauty of this people-based strategy is that it applies not just to software development, but to any initiative.