How Leaders Can Make the Case for Change


Good business leaders know when it’s time to make significant changes at their companies, but it can still be tough to get buy-in from employees who are the ones to make the changes happen. The case for change may be clear to those at the top, but how do you get the rest of the organization on board?

Studies show more than 60 percent of a change project’s success relies on people. Even if the new technology, processes and knowledge are all in place, an organization can still fail.

The goal is to get employees to think differently so they adopt change, rather than combat it. For instance, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has brought that company into a new era, changing a know-it-all attitude into a learn-it-all attitude. This has had a monumental impact on other organizations as they rethink their work culture.

Organizational change management – or OCM – helps companies manage the risk associated with the crucial “people side” of change, with activities such as stakeholder management, targeted communications, organizational alignment, and training and learning enablement. These can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes your workforce to rebound from big changes and for your company to realize the benefits of a project or program.

OCM also can help convey the need for a transformation. Making a case for change is not just about pushing the benefits the transformation will bring, but also about communicating a sense of urgency. Leaders spend a lot of time preoccupied with the reasons to do something now, assuming others share their concerns. It’s more common they don’t.

While leaders need a forward-thinking, strategic frame of mind, employees are likely more focused on accomplishing the daily tasks at hand. To enable different thinking and action, employees first need to be a little on edge about where the organization sits today. After all, people typically feel compelled to move in a new direction only when it’s painful to stay put.

Here are some ways to create a sense of urgency in your employees:

  1. Communicate market pressures. Across all industries, expectations are changing, and customers are demanding a higher level of service. They require faster access to information through multiple channels. If they can’t get to their accounts on mobile devices or quickly get resolution from call centers, you may risk losing them. Making sure your employees understand this reality helps them connect with the need for change. After all, they’re consumers, too. Use examples of how other companies have made changes and improvements they’ve seen and like. Use the same process to explain pressures like regulation and market competition.
  2. Share innovations with the teams that need change. Employees may better understand what’s required when they learn more about the advances happening in their own functional areas. For example, manufacturing is being heavily influenced by the Internet of Things (IoT). With the new ability to monitor machinery in real time, you get opportunities for increased productivity and proactive maintenance on the shop floor. If you plan to implement artificial intelligence (AI) in manufacturing, you can share with employees how General Electric created Brilliant Manufacturing software to gain visibility on the entire manufacturing process. The software contains analytics and operational intelligence tools that help supervisors at a computer identify real-time, floor-based problems, rather than having to walk the entire facility floor. In the meantime, IT is being revolutionized by DevOps – a practice focused on the collaboration of software developers and other IT professionals. DevOps speeds up a company’s ability to deliver better, higher-value business applications. In addition, innovations in robotic process automation (RPA) are freeing up resources to take on more complex and creative opportunities or simply allowing workers to do more with less in shared service functions, such as finance and human resources. Sharing examples like these in one-on-one situations, team meetings and town halls can help promote the benefits of embracing a new way to operate and provide cautionary tales about what can happen if an organization is too slow to adapt. All these conversations will help employees relate to the changes, instead of letting their imagination run wild with ideas on how their jobs will be affected.
  3. Relate simple stories about how tech has changed our daily lives to the workplace. Day to day, we all deal with changes from new technology – with mostly positive impacts. Innovations have improved our lives by making it easier to get transportation to and from the airport, allowing us to remotely adjust our home thermostats, and notifying us when our credit cards are used. Every employee can relate to these changes, so draw parallels to work processes. Are our customers or business counterparts waiting on information due to antiquated processes and systems? If this isn’t acceptable in our personal lives, then why should it be acceptable at work?

When making the case for change, look at it from the lens of an employee. Articulate why the current way of doing things won’t support the organization into the future. Portray a vision of where you need to be, build enthusiasm for getting there and encourage employees to go with you.

Contact ISG’s organizational change management team for more information to help accomplish your change goals.