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Aug 18, 2014

Creating change in the workplace? Your employees better be engaged first.

Creating change within the work environment can be a difficult task. Often, the employees who most need to reassess their habits are the ones who are the most resistant to HR and management’s efforts to introduce some new energy and perspective into office operations.

What’s more, the need for change isn’t always on the micro level, with a single member or particular subset of staff. Companies occasionally find they need to reevaluate the entirety of their work cultures, and in those cases, the complexity of the undertaking becomes even greater.

It’s vital for HR departments to have the tools at their disposal to ensure the key changes that need to take place within companies can occur smoothly, without any negative impact on overall productivity.

Research suggests, however, that most attempts to implement change aren’t successful – and that may be due to lack of employee engagement with the process of re-evaluating and altering company practices.

How change fails, and why

A study by researchers at The Ken Blanchard Companies found that 70 percent of all attempts at change within organizations ultimately fail. Ken Blanchard, the firm’s founder, suggested that this statistic reflects the overly inflated egos of many of the executives in charge of such initiatives.

Attempting to effect change in an authoritarian manner – forcing results, as Blanchard put it – often ends up backfiring. Money is wasted, productivity is sacrificed and employee satisfaction drops. In many cases, insufficient communication may be the culprit: Staff need to understand the deeper reasons behind the new policies.

“If people can’t see the need for change, they don’t want it, won’t stand for it and will go out of their way to avoid, if not sabotage it,” Blanchard wrote.

The researchers uncovered an even more alarming statistic: 29 percent of all change initiatives go into effect without a formal structure to support them. Blanchard pointed out that in the current economic situation – the recession is not yet fully in the rearview – spending time and money on programs without a plan behind them is simply foolish.

How, then, are companies to implement the necessary changes with greater assurance of success? The key may lie in finding new, more forward-thinking approaches for involving staff in the process.

AT&T disrupts the communication chain

Some companies  — even those with large employee sets — are trying to rethink the ways they solicit and implement employee feedback.

According to Forbes, telecom giant AT&T recently launched The Innovation Pipeline (TIP), an initiative that solicits employee ideas electronically through a crowd-sourcing infrastructure. Staff seem to be highly receptive to the program, as TIP boasts 130,000 active participants in all 50 states. To date, more than 25,000 ideas have been submitted through the new system.

“This is a program that gets people excited,” remarked Abhi Ingle, AT&T’s vice president of ecosystem and innovation, according to the news source.

While such an extensive program may not be feasible or practical at small businesses, the enthusiasm with which the AT&T initiative has been met by employees reflects the effectiveness of attempts to emphasize bottom-to-top communication, rather than simply delivering mandates and expecting execution.

Read more from David Bator on his blog: Beyond the Employee Survey