Engaging Frontline Employees in Transformation

Updated: Jan 29

A lot of work goes into major change initiatives. It's frustrating, to say the least, if after years of research, planning and investment dollars, projects fizzle out because frontline employees aren't energized and informed about the change.

Change communications need to be thoughtful and reflective for all audiences, and frontline employees are sometimes shortchanged. Can you quickly fix things if employees resist a transformation rollout? What if it takes longer than anticipated for teams to adopt a new mindset, process, system or technology? These considerations will directly impact your bottom line, recruiting and retention efforts, and ability to serve customers, and it's important to factor them in to your change communications plan.

Here are four questions to ask yourself as you work with leadership and embark on your transformation projects:

1. How Will You Connect the Change to Your Organization's Vision, Mission, Purpose and Values?

A study by Mercer found that thriving employees are three times more likely to work for a company with a strong sense of purpose, yet only 13 percent of the companies surveyed offer an employee value proposition (EVP) that's differentiated by a purpose-driven mission. We've seen millennials at manufacturing organizations get excited about process changes that will reduce environmental impact. We've also seen call center workers engage with cultural changes that connect with their ability to voice their ideas. Working with a sense of purpose boosts employee motivation, productivity, morale, and overall job satisfaction, and leadership should share that sense of purpose with employees as often as possible.

2. Ensure content is simple, straightforward, human and transparent.

Research by New York University psychologists concluded that listeners are more likely to believe concrete, rather than abstract, language, so it's important for communicators to be as clear and transparent as possible. Sometimes compelling key messages become watered down. Other times, there is a reluctance to share information that might cause distress. Don't be vague. Just as thoughts shape language, the language we use has the power to shape our thoughts and actions. Advise project teams to share as much data, facts, and specific examples as possible, and coach them in communications strategies well before the transformation is rolled out.

3. Have a Plan for Managing Resistance.

The fear of the unknown is a powerful force. To help mitigate employee anxiety about organizational transformations, involve them in the process early on, listen to their feedback, and update them about new progress and decisions. Take the time to address concerns about changes in employee status openly and honestly and highlight the changes that will directly benefit them. Perhaps they are giving up control in one area but gaining expertise in another. Maybe their status will change, but they'll be given opportunities to develop new skills. Whatever the benefit, share it with them while you address their concerns. And be sure to listen to employees who openly challenge change – they just might know a better way to do something.

4. Involve Employees.

Even if employees cannot affect the overall decision about change, involve each employee in meaningful decisions about their business unit and their work. One effective way to do this is at the departmental level. When the changes are in progress, talk to your team as a group, then speak to each employee individually. This will allow employees to participate in identifying the impact of the decisions on their job.