Great leaders drive change by shaping desire, not by decree

Regan Donoghue of Unispace says less management, more inspiration is key—and shares tips for success.

less change management
Archetype Offices by Unispace

Change may be the only constant, but the need for it has reached fever pitch in today’s workplace. From here-to-stay hybrid trends fast-tracked by COVID-19 to new demographics and breakneck tech innovation, the way we work is changing irrevocably—and organizations must adapt to avoid being left behind.

Embracing change will help smooth the way for future uncertainty, while supporting recruitment and retention goals in the here and now. After all, one of the biggest issues companies are having with the ‘Reluctant Returner’ is addressing their desire for change.

A survey of 3,000 office workers found that two-thirds of office workers (64%) have been reluctant to return to the office post-pandemic because of the commute, lack of work-life balance and an ineffective workspace. A staggering 95% expressed a desire to change their workplace, with more outdoor space, access to quiet as well as collaborative areas, and higher-caliber amenities.

Stop calling it change management. Change by decree won’t cut it in an evolve-or-die era.

Creating a change-ready organization also helps appeal to today’s increasingly multi-generational workforce. As many as five generations may now or will soon work beside each other—all bringing different values, communications styles and workplace desires to the table. It’s up to employers to usher in a future where everyone belongs.

What should be corporate leadership’s first order of business? Stop calling it change management. Change by decree won’t cut it in an evolve-or-die era.

Instead, leaders should motivate people’s intrinsic desires to change behaviors and together shape a change-ready culture where agility and flexibility are part of the organizational DNA.

When people feel invested as individuals, they’ll help champion change not because they’re being told to, but because they care about its success personally and professionally.

To that end, there are five key steps employers can take to rally employees around mutually desired change.

1. Start with the WHY.

When people need to change something big—whether personal or professional—they need the “why” first or they’ll never embrace it. As an example, companies can’t push all employees back to the office just because that’s the way it’s always been done. People need new purpose based on new understanding.

To win adoption for work-related change, step back and assess its impact in today’s post-pandemic, hybrid world. With this context, define and be ready to explain how any given change will benefit employees as well as the broader business.

For example, designating some days for meetings/mentorship/social purposes while also setting aside ‘No Meeting Days’ can help streamline collaboration while giving teams time dedicated time to hunker down for more focused work or recharge time.

2. Find the fun.

Identifying the need for transformation and defining end goals is largely a left-brain exercise. But don’t leave out the right brain’s emotional and creative intelligence in visualizing, communicating, and rolling out change.

On training days, for instance, why not bring in a popular guest expert to talk about how they experienced a similar adjustment, lived to tell the tale, and, ideally, to love it? Or consider theme-based retreats where teams can unite over a cause, while bonding with each other in a beautiful and interesting location. Imagine, too, what might happen in an improv session co-led by a local comic, or the insights that could come out of a work-from-someone-else’s-home day.

3. Listen actively to make sure the change is right.

Today’s employees have experienced different types of work and know what they like and don’t like. Skip the guesswork and just ask what people care about. Shape transformative strategy based on what they say and seek continual feedback to course correct along the way.

4. Walk the walk.

Leaders can’t inspire employees to make change if they won’t do so themselves. In too many cases, managers are mandating employees follow rigid attendance rules—only to continue to work remotely themselves, showing up when and where they want. This kind of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ approach is the fastest way to lose employee buy-in.

Instead, leaders should earn employee support for an initiative by showing they not only get and can articulate the purpose, but stand behind it in action, too.

5. Present a clear path to change—with frequent reminders of the benefits along the way.

Even the best, most desirable transformation can be hard to enact. Make it more achievable by plotting out a clear plan with visible milestones to reach throughout the process.

From there, use “positive reappraisal” to continually remind people’s brains why the goal matters and what they will gain from overcoming obstacles to get there. Repeating and promoting positive framing is invaluable to keeping up morale and momentum when the inevitable roadblocks get in the way.

Forging the future of work, together.

By inspiring employee buy-in, listening, and reminding one another of the stakes—and the benefits—of workplace change, organizations can shape a brighter future for people and profit alike.

The future of work is up for grabs. Now is the chance to pioneer transformation for more inclusive, engaging human experiences today—while nurturing a more agile and resilient culture that can thrive tomorrow, and beyond.

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