Climate change, Covid-19, supply chain disruptions, a volatile macroeconomic and political landscape… In an increasingly complex environment, the pressure on businesses to change has never been higher. As organisations transform to meet new challenges, change itself has become more fast-paced and complex. More than ever, companies need to engage with their people in a meaningful way and get their buy-in to implement the corporate agenda.
Three elements of employee buy-in
Employee buy-in means that people within an organisation understand the business strategy and its objectives. They need to be clear on their own role and what it means in their day-to-day to turn strategy into action. Finally, buy-in will only be achieved if employees can see the benefits of the change – for themselves, but also the company, customers, and other stakeholders.
1. The ‘What’: Understanding the change
In most big organisations change is a near constant, with different initiatives being communicated all the time. If the transformation is not framed properly, employees could react with cynicism and exhaustion to ‘yet another change initiative’. A coherent and compelling narrative should connect the transformation and its goals to supporting change initiatives and workstreams, allowing people to understand the ‘big picture’ and where they fit in.
The top leadership team needs to be visible as drivers of change, setting the strategic direction and inspiring action. However, the jargon-heavy vocabulary of the C-suite can feel alienating and act as a barrier to employee-buy-in (think, for example, ‘leverage’, ‘synergise’, ‘utilise’, ‘scale’). When working with businesses who are going through transformation and need to communicate changes to their people, we often begin by unpicking strategy presentations and key messages developed by bankers or management consultants.
We then speak to ‘real’ people from across the business, getting their perspectives on different dimensions of the change – their hopes and expectations, but also reservations and perceived barriers of change. This is usually the starting point for creating impactful communications that drive clarity and resonate with internal stakeholder groups.
Finally, communication needs to go both ways. Sustainable change requires dialogue and real understanding rather than empty messages and slogans.
2. The ‘How’: Clarity about own role
It’s a common misconception that employee resistance is the main barrier to change. Most people are willing, even eager, to adapt and change – if they understand what is expected of them and why. In this regard, leaders and line managers at every level of an organisation are crucial to the success of change. They need to bring the strategy to life in their daily actions and decisions. Moreover, they have the task of ‘translating’ and contextualizing strategic content for specific local requirements – making it possible for people to get behind the strategy and drive its implementation.
It’s important to involve leaders across the business and to equip them with the practical tools they need to communicate change. They need to be empowered to work together with their teams to translate strategic objectives into actionable to-dos. Examples include manager communication training, comms toolkits, or scalable leader-led workshop formats.
3. The ‘Why’: Reasons to belief
For employees, change can be very unsettling. Winning the hearts and minds of people starts with allowing them the time and space to understand new developments. They will expect clarity about what is happening and why, what will be expected of them and how they will be supported through change.
Crucially, employees need to see how the change creates opportunities for them, professionally and personally. For example, will there be new career paths or opportunities for upskilling? Does the strategy connect to a higher purpose that resonates with individual values and priorities? It’s also important to celebrate successes by highlighting progress and quick wins along the way, so employees stay motivated and engaged.