Employees are reporting record levels of change fatigue – on average, they reported experiencing 39 work-related changes annually – meaning executive leaders of all functions need to help them navigate this environment. This is a particularly acute challenge for marketing leaders, who are often tasked not only with engaging their own teams in change, but also helping internal business partners and even external stakeholders respond to disruption.
Last year, as part of our Marketing Symposium, I led a breakout session on helping leaders engage their team in this changing work environment. Below are three key takeaways that I shared; I invite you to consider how you can incorporate them into your day-to-day responsibilities of managing your teams. And by the way, this year’s Symposium is being held in Denver in May, so reserve your spot today!
Before I get to the takeaways, I urge you to remember one piece of advice when it comes to managing your teams during change:
Stop telling your employees to change, and start figuring out what’s getting in their way.
With this hint in mind, let’s get to our recommended actions for you.
Acknowledge that your employees are likely fatigued
This one sounds easy, right? Well, yes, it is!
We need to acknowledge – for ourselves – that your employees are likely fatigued, and not be shy about sharing that with your employees.
The problem is that oftentimes, leaders from across any organization are focused – rightfully so in many ways – on the changes that they “own,” the things that they work on day in and day out, that they forget that these changes are not the only ones that employees are experiencing at a given time. In short, they have tunnel vision. Marketing leaders need to recognize that they own one piece of the puzzle – an important one to be sure – but in the minds of their employees, their changes might get drowned out, so to speak, by other things that come across their inbox.
By probing to understand the depth and breadth of changes that employees might be experiencing before asking them to engage with another major disruption, marketing leaders can consider delaying some announcements, or aligning them with other initiatives to help employees “connect the dots” for implementing the broader suite of changes. Short of that, even when delaying changes might not be realistic, the simple act of acknowledging that employees are dealing with a lot should be the first step of helping employees navigate change.
Involve your employees in change (when possible)
This in many ways is the hallmark of what people usually think of when talking about leading change. The idea is that when we’re rolling out a change, if we ask employees for their opinion or feedback, then we’ll get them committed to rolling out a change, and then watch it flourish. In reality, that’s not always possible, and even when it is possible, it shouldn’t be the only part of your change strategy. Rather, you should think about balancing how much you ask employees for feedback with the need to actually get things done.
Hopefully by now you know that leaders should not be caught dictating major changes without any employee input, in the classic “command and control” communications cascade. On the other side of this continuum, however, it’s just not practical to incorporate every person’s opinion about a new strategy into your decision making. This can slow down the process, and it can also lead to more disengagement if you take the time to involve employees in decisions and inevitably disappoint some because they feel like you didn’t take their advice.
So what is the sweet spot for involving employees in change? We call it a co-created strategy, where employees are engaged, but at the right altitude, so to speak, and at the right time. We also want to make sure that the feedback sought from employees is focused not so much on how to formulate the change itself, but more so on what the change means for them, and how they can internalize it for their responsibilities. So, yes, involve employees – and you can be the best judge of when and how much to involve them – but be intentional about what it is you’re asking of them.
Identify and address employee barriers to change
Regardless of how much control you have had over the changes your employees are experiencing, marketing leaders should incorporate this step into their regular engagement of their teams. You and your fellow leaders should be on the lookout for what is driving your employees to behave in a certain way, and critically, what might be getting in the way of those behaviors that you are trying to encourage.
To that end, I encourage you to review our Behavioral Listening Guide, which provides a framework for you to diagnose those barriers. This can be done in a variety of ways, from formal employee pulse surveys or focus groups to informal listening strategies, but the act of probing to identify obstacles, whether real or perceived, that your employees are experiencing, is an essential component to helping you engage your team in change.
Once you have identified those barriers, you can develop “interventions” to try and address them. If, for example, you noticed that employees reported a disconnect between what they hear as a priority from leaders and the actual behavior of their colleagues “on the ground,” you can highlight stories from team members who are displaying the desired behaviors to provide social cues that encourage positive engagement.
My colleagues and I welcome the chance to connect with you to help you apply these principles into your day-to-day leadership responsibilities, and we have a host of case studies, frameworks, and tools to help you do just that. In the meantime, feel free to copy and paste that one piece of advice, print and keep a copy of it on your desk, or do whatever you need to do to remember:
Stop telling your employees to change, and start figuring out what’s getting in the way.
The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.
Comments are closed