One of the areas of organizational change that’s changing is… change itself. While the number of changes and pace of change remain high, the success rate of these efforts is slipping.
This is a bit concerning, but not surprising. Think about it: Advances in technology keep rattling the status quo with new/different/better ways of working – and it’s been going on for the last 30 years! Compound that with the changes brought on by the pandemic, including mass resignations, supply chain issues and other global economic realities that impact the workforce.
In short, people are tired. We see it every day in our work with clients, and Notion’s 2023 study suggests that it’s actually impacting success factors of the changes themselves. The study, conducted earlier this year, sampled 550 members of the U.S. workforce, ranging from C-suite executives to front-line employees, mostly in companies of 5,000.
A few key findings stood out to us:
- Emotional commitment to change overall dropped by a third from 2022 to 2023.
- Support for change from middle managers, often at the center of implementing changes, sharply declined, from 70% to 45%.
- Leaders themselves seem to be losing faith, dipping about 20% in their support of change.
- The letter grade people give their companies’ overall change efforts fell from a B- to a C.
- Satisfaction with employee retention and engagement during change fell from 40% to 35% — neither of which rises above a failing grade.
Another key finding is that managing change really matters. People who rated their organizations highly for the things they do during change – such as frequent/open communication, one of the hallmarks of a well-executed change – also gave high marks for the business outcomes of the change itself.
The converse is also true: Those who didn’t experience well-managed changes note that their companies missed milestones, financial targets, and customer satisfaction goals during and after the change.
This is a solvable situation. Leaders who understand that their employees are far greater assets than the new technology, processes, or products they are introducing will see greater success. We recommend a few basic principles to help leaders lead change more successfully:
- Make change human: remember that it’s a people thing, not a process thing.
- Be open: employees want to know what’s happening – early, honestly, and transparently.
- Nurture the people in the middle – they’re critical in driving business and people outcomes.
- Adjust to the times – with the rise of AI, the next few years may require new ground rules.
- Keep it simple – Facing competing priorities can feel overwhelming.