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The Role of Employee Listening in Successful Change Management

The Role of Employee Listening in Successful Change Management

No matter what organizations do, change remains a constant. In fact, the rate of change continues to increase, driven in part by a mixed jobs picture and an unpredictable domestic economy. Regardless of the cause, one thing is clear: because change involves uncertainty and risk, it can be uncomfortable for those who are affected.  

Change Is Inevitable. Employee Listening Can Help You Put Your Ear to the Ground.

Organizational change can be a complex and challenging process, and it requires a well-planned, well-executed approach. Effective change management demands strong leadership, clear communication, thoughtful stakeholder engagement, and a focus on building the skills and capabilities needed to successfully implement the change.

Understanding your employees’ sentiments regarding change is one of many compelling use cases for employee listening. Organizations can face both internal changes, such as everyday process improvement and other job-related shifts, as well as external changes, ranging from the recent pandemic to global market downturns.                               

Smaller organizational changes can include alterations of long-standing policies, the introduction of new policies, the retirement of veteran leaders, and the promotion or external hiring of new leaders. These are the sort of changes for which a monthly pulse survey or crowdsourcing can be used to gather immediate feedback, which can be quickly actioned.

Larger organizational changes such as restructurings, reductions in force, or mergers & acquisitions should be addressed with a more comprehensive employee listening strategy.

When We Measure Organizational Change, What Are We Measuring?

Regardless of the change type, there are key change sentiment measures that could be added to any pulse or census, whereas more specific change surveys will lend themselves to more customization. When using employee listening to measure change, we want to ensure we are measuring:

    • Change Readiness
      • How well do employees adapt to change? Do they embrace change or resist it?
      • Are changes implemented quickly?

    • Understanding & Clarity  
      • Do employees understand the reason for the change and how it impacts their jobs?
      • Do employees understand how the change will help the organization achieve its goals?

    • Buy-in & Commitment 
      • Do employees agree with the change?
      • Do employees believe the company has a clear vision, and are they motivated by it?
      • Do employees feel their skills will be leveraged in this change?

    • Leader Trust & Support
      • Do employees believe that their managers are supporting them through the change?
      • Do employees believe there is open communication about the change?
      • Are managers equipped to support their teams?
      • Are leaders effectively leading through change? Are they communicating the reasons for the change and any important decisions related to it?  
      • Are employees appropriately involved in decisions that will affect them?
      • Do leaders listen and act on employee feedback and concerns?

    • Communications
      • How did employees hear about the change? How would they prefer to learn about other shifts related to this change, or future changes generally?
      • Was there appropriate time between the announcement of the change and its implementation?
      • Did change communication help prepare employees? Did they help employees understand the change?

When change is managed well, we see the following positive impacts:

  • Higher productivity, engagement, and well-being
  • Improved sentiment related to intent to stay
  • Trust in managers and leaders
  • Improved psychological safety 
  • Change readiness, buy-in, and understanding (both present and future)

When Should We Measure Organizational Change?

The appropriate time to measure change varies by the type and scale of the change. The recommended approach for a larger-scale change is to measure sentiment within 1-2 weeks of the change announcement. This requires that the surveying team come prepared with detailed survey communications and appropriate survey design. It requires strong partnership and trust between the survey team and those directly involved with the change to align on your population and the key questions you are trying to answer. Having a clear reporting strategy will also help you to establish key change indicators and outcomes for your survey, as well as to identify which key demographics (e.g., job segment, or number of changes an employee is going through) to include or create in your data file.  

A change survey should focus on the sentiments outlined above: understanding, buy-in, leader trust, and communications. Measuring sentiment related to change communications and logistics is critical, as this will allow the organization to better prepare for subsequent changes based on the survey results. 

After the change has been implemented, an organization should measure again. This typically occurs 3-4 months after the change announcement, though this can vary by scope and scale. This allows for trending of key metrics over time. Through measurement, the organization can see how well or poorly the change has been received, along with its impact on performance, productivity, and well-being. Depending on the scope of the change, this survey could be repeated again after more time has elapsed.

Change Measurement Considerations 

When developing a listening strategy for measuring change, organizations should consider:

  • Direct vs. indirectly affected: Which employees are directly affected by the change (e.g., employees in a department that has experienced layoffs and is now running leaner)? How is the impact on this group different from those employees who are only indirectly affected by it (e.g., employees in a department that may assist the directly affected department, but that experienced no layoffs)? 
  • The number of changes each employee goes through: Are some groups of employees experiencing more changes than others? How do sentiments vary by the number of change events experienced?
  • Tracking affected employees in future surveys: Employees affected by change can be flagged in upcoming surveys to see whether their sentiment differs over time.

Communicating Results 

As with any listening strategy, its critical to align on a communication plan for your results.  Having that plan in place before survey administration will allow the team time to prepare and ensure buy-in from appropriate stakeholders.  Be sure to consider:

  • Who receives the communication? The entire organization? Just those impacted (directly or indirectly)? Only leaders? The more transparent you can be with the results, the more buy-in and trust you’ll encounter.
  • What will be communicated? How will you link your actions and decisions to the data?  Employees need to feel heard, especially in change situations. This will lead to improved well-being and belonging, through feelings of psychological safety.
  • Who will the communication come from? Your CEO? Another senior leader, or your change team? Think about your audience and how the communication will be received.  

An expert tip: embedding your change listening strategy directly into your change communication should positively impact your outcomes. This way, employees understand up front that their opinions matter. Share with your employees how their feedback will inform both current and future change events. Just be sure not to overpromise, and be transparent about how and when their feedback will be utilized. Remember, if their feedback cannot be incorporated, it’s always good to explain why.

How Your Listening Partner Can Help

Many organizations experiencing large-scale changes need ongoing professional services or consulting support via a listening partner like Perceptyx. This support can be essential for developing change surveys and appropriately actioning the results and can include:

  • Building a change measurement strategy
  • Developing valid change survey questions
  • Implementing and deploying the appropriate listening technology, such as our People Insights Platform
  • Administering the change surveys
  • Interpreting change survey results
  • Linking change survey insights to action planning
  • Communicating results and recommended actions to senior leaders
  • Reviewing and proposing adjustments to future change surveys

Perceptyx has a set of standard change surveys, along with an even larger set of change survey items that our consultants can use to tailor a survey design that best suits the needs of your organization. To learn more, schedule a meeting with a member of our team

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