How to Change Employee Behaviour

One may want more motivated and productive employees, but it’s still true that it’s a question of willingness… by the main stakeholders! How can we make sense of work environment transformations to promote better perception?

Open-plan workspaces, blended teams, refurbishing of equipment, frequent trials of new communication methods: this is the daily lot of many employees. “Organizational change” is in fashion. But if it is badly done, without a unifying vision and without being consistent with the task, it can have very harmful consequences.

“Many studies show that change leads companies to perform better,” says Kevin Johnson, professor and researcher in the management department at HEC Montreal. “But many other studies document the failures, more numerous than successes and too often leading to burnout and professional disengagement.”

For a change to have beneficial effects on behaviours, the researcher suggests “infusing meaning”. “You have to avoid what I call “organizational fireworks”, a situation of overload from changes that go in all directions.”

A clear vision

As a manager, the first question to ask yourself is “Why this change?”. If it is aligned with both the general needs of the business environment and those of the organization as well as the individuals who make it up, you can conclude that it is genuinely necessary. The ambient digital culture, for example, can lead an accounting firm to observe that its clients and competitors change their practices and to identify a need for digital innovation for the organization, which corresponds to a thirst for learning and a willingness to adapt by its employees. Bingo – everything is all set for the change to be well received.

“Changes must be initiated by a powerful leader and sprinkled across all of the company’s departments from a single vision,” adds Kevin Johnson. “Too often each department interprets the transformations underway in its own way. They will quickly be unable to collaborate more with the company’s other sectors.”

The change must therefore be generated from the top to the bottom of the pyramid. This does not mean that employees at the bottom of the ladder are excluded from the development: mechanisms must be put in place to involve everyone and ensure a real “empowerment” of all employees affected by this change.

Another key to success is to make sure that each transformation leaves employees at least a “safe haven”, whether in their social world, their work tools or the valuation of their traditional skills. In other words, don’t hope to disrupt everything in one shot!

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