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To succeed with your organizational transformation, lead with humanity. The rest will follow.

Aug 04, 2022

We are all humans with very human needs.

If one truth has become self-evident over my nearly 30 years as a transformative communicator and change-management leader, it’s that we are all humans with very diverse, human needs and reactions to change. And while well-thought change is good for business, the human struggle of change is real — very real.

As change and communications experts, we enable human-centric transformations daily. And if you are like me, you occasionally run into organizational inertia. In my humble opinion, that inertia occurs when employees — at any and every level of an organization — are not on board with a transformation for very personal, human reasons. Such change resistance could stem from a perception paradox, lack of trust, breakdown in communication or other factors. While our audience’s reasons for not embracing a change are likely many and varied, one thread ties them all together in my mind: unmet, fundamental human needs. We can only truly care for those with very empathetic — and human — responses.

Trust begets empowerment, empowerment begets pride of ownership and pride of ownership begets accountability — and ultimately successful, sustainable change.

Throughout my career in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, I’ve seen change efforts go sideways when employees at all levels feel (or even just perceive) adverse impact in their needs for financial stability, well-being, trust, respect, inclusion, appreciation, etc. And while this might be an overly simplistic extrapolation, I believe that when organizational change is not truly by the people for the people with the people, it will be doomed to fail. (Note: As an eternal optimist, I do not use words like “doom” and “fail” lightly.)

“Doing change unto” our employees will not bring about the desired result in today’s world of work. Stated another way: Forced, one-way organizational behavior just won’t cut it in the COVID (and post-COVID) era. We all need to pivot, authentically nurturing the trust, humanity and empowerment of our teams and employees at all levels.

Within my own change-management practice, I’ve seen transformation efforts exceed expectations when we’ve extended our hands, trusted each other, created safe spaces for failure and recovery and ”crowd sourced” ideas from the very humans we hoped to transform. That is why I wholeheartedly believe change is a journey we ultimately take together by trusting one another as empowered co-creators.

Co-created transformations may require an initial leap of faith, trusting our own humanity as change leaders, as well as the humanity of others. However, only by trusting each other and working together can we design truly lasting, sustainable solutions for organizational change, just like those echoed last month by my fellow thought leaders at Gagen MacDonald.

Look to those closest to the issues to help solve — and own — them.

My Agile friends got it right early on when they found that self-organized teams of experts closest to the work drive the highest-quality and most-lasting change by holding themselves accountable to it. To further illustrate how well team empowerment enabled by complete trust can work, I offer you this wonderful example by retired U.S. Navy Captain David Marquet.

Captain Marquet’s message to us all is that, to achieve greatness, we merely need to trust and empower the people closest to the issue to solve it. It’s simple, surgical … and so spot-on. But why is this approach to change sometimes so hard to actualize? The simple answer, again, is organizational inertia. And when we encounter inertia in our employees, leaders, transformation workstreams, etc., just remember that the likely reason is one or more unmet needs. And to meet those human needs within ourselves and others, we just need to tap into our own humanity as we formulate our empathetic responses.

The potential benefits are many for the organizations that can effectively tap into their collective humanity and collaborative spirit — from faster change adoption rates to decreased transformation costs to a better bottom line to improved morale. And we all know that when employees are happier, especially during a transformative time, customers will be happier, too. (If all that doesn’t convince you, please take a moment to read this recent gem by Forbes: “Transforming Organizations Through A Collaborative Team Approach Will Increase Your Bottom Line.”)

In closing, I very much understand that all — or even some — of what I’m suggesting here may seem “easier said than done” for many organizations right now. And that is why your friends at Gagen MacDonald (including me) are here to support you wherever you are in your change journey. No transformation effort is too large or small for our talented collection of caring humans. So please feel free to reach out to us anytime. We’d be honored to help you lead your next transformation with empathy and humanity.

Teresa Allen is a director and consultant at Gagen MacDonald, specializing in human-centered transformation and change communications. She loves helping clients achieve comfort with and confidence in change by helping them embrace their humanity and honoring it in others.

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Teresa Allen
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