Scaling Cultural Change that Leads to Action
Navigating Cultural Changes
Successfully navigating change is a challenge that every organization and employee will inevitably face. Navigating change presents a wide range of difficulties as well as opportunities for growth and innovation. Whether it’s a rebrand, a reorganization, a merger or acquisition, or integration of new technology – change occurs in many ways and on many levels in the workplace.
Ultimately, change is a personal process, and successful change initiatives address the needs and concerns of individual teams and people. It’s not only individual contributors who need to adapt and intentionally integrate and reflect on implications of changes—it’s leaders too.
A successful change strategy takes into account how to communicate and mitigate change at all levels of an organization. At the core of successful change is putting people first. Whether it’s change coming from an organizational need, or society as a whole, the people side of change is key to change acceptance.
Change Acceptance: The Biggest Challenge of Cultural Change
As a default, people tend towards sameness and routine as a method of ‘safeness’ and stability in the workplace.
In any change initiative, there will be people who immediately buy-in. This group represents the early adopters and promoters of change. Other typical divisions include a large middle section of people who are uncertain about what the change means for them. Inevitably, there will be a group of people who are cautious and resistant to change, whether it’s due to past experience, how the change impacts their role, or uncertainty about how the future of the organization will look.
To solve for resistance to change, lean into intentionality and the strengths of your people. Without anticipating and understanding the concerns of your people and who may be on the opposite end of change, the change is at risk of failure.
Change Efforts: What Happens When They Fail
When change efforts fail, it’s not just frustrating, it’s costly. Failure to mobilize employees and activate change results in financial and morale losses.
When it comes to change, one size does not fit all. Once a change plan is solidified, organizations often need to spend considerable time and resources on change consulting and mitigating change rejection. Organizations spent $2 billion on change management consulting between 2020-2024.
Despite the large amount of time and money spent on change efforts:
- 50% of change efforts fail
- 70% of failed change efforts are due to employee resistance and unsupportive management behavior.
Core Change Principle: Addressing Employee Mindset
For employees, there are typically three questions that go through their minds.
- “What does this change mean for me?”
- “Why is it happening?”
- “What will it look like when the change has been made?”
Strategically leveraging leaders and managers as change levers is a key factor in change success. Employees often look to leaders in the organization to be beacons of change, understanding how they should take the change by modeling their behavior.
Identifying key stakeholders who have influence on employees at the organization and equipping them with the tools to answer these questions is an essential step of change management.
Clear communication and clearly defining milestones of when, where, and how the change should be appearing is necessary to illustrate what change will look like. Having a plan and defining milestones allows identification of roadblocks and connecting the right people when challenges do occur.
Addressing employee questions about change isn’t as simple as announcing a change and letting it unfold – it’s a continuous process of intentionality.
Tip: Champions can help facilitate steps to visualize what an effective change will look like and socialize it with other team members.
Navigating Change: Things That Don’t Work
Some common pitfalls when it comes to mobilizing an organizational change:
- Statements from Leadership Without Clear Action Steps
- Lack of Management Support
- Lack of Employee Communication
For example, a single all-hands meeting with no follow-up action of intentional integration may leave employees with questions about how this change should look. Failing to support managers and leaders and recognize them as change beacons can create a culture of frustration and confusion as messaging may become skewed if managers are not cued into how change will impact them and their teams.
While organizations may not get 100% buy-in for all changes, making sure that managers are connected with the reasoning and messaging behind an ongoing change clarifies change intention.
How to Navigate Change: Start with People
Create Communication Avenues
- Having forums at different levels of the company is an essential part of collecting the voices and representation.
- Intentionality is at the heart of successful change management. Allow employees to verbalize their experiences and anxieties or excitements.Rather than leaving feelings of resistance to change up to guess-work, leaning into intentionally creates a productive feedback loop that turns resistance into productive actions.
- Making space for the disagreement and uncertainty from people through intentional forums to address change concerns opens the communication channels between employees and leadership. These spaces are a way to share consistent messaging and reasoning. Ongoing communication lets employees process changes in a constructive and honest conversation – forming supportive connections, before, during, and after change.
Support Managers and Leaders
- Support managers and leaders by giving them the tools to mitigate change for their teams and communicate large scale impacts. Often, organizations fail to adequately support their managers and leaders in the face of change.
- Leaders and managers are a huge lever in accepting organizational change to ensure that the messages are consistent at all levels of the organization and understanding the impact on individual business units and employees.
Turn Ideas into Action
- Change is mobilized when employee concerns and challenges are turned into action.
- Giving permission for employees to evaluate what skills and avenues they have internally for mitigating change unlocks productive action. Connecting employees with opportunities to lean into support each other and themselves through change
- Help employees understand what is getting in the way of their success. A conversation allows employees to step back and evaluate what steps they can take to understand and take action towards the road blocks . Empowering employees to take action towards solutions moves the needle on larger organizational goals.
Case Study: How Ancestry Turned Cultural Change into Action
Ancestry is a DNA technology company that helps connect people with their family history and heritage. They aim to bring families and people together around shared stories, and connections around cultural background and history.
During the 40 years that Ancestry has existed, the company has undergone constant transformation. They’ve been a private company, a public company, and back to private; they navigated the challenges of changes to work during the height of COVID; and have been undergoing a digital transformation of their company and product for accessibility and cultural relevance across the globe.
In asking themselves ‘how can we make sure that our product works for everyone?’, they’ve adapted both externally and internally. Agile change requires a shifting mindset and a sound change strategy – with people at the center.
Ancestry’s Goals in Partnering with Imperative
When Meg Harris, Ancestry’s VP of people, first joined the organization, she recognized that employees had a strong connection with each other and with the purpose of the organization.
Amidst new policies that created expanded optionality with where and how they work, the norms of work at Ancestry underwent large scale change.
Recognizing that connections across teams were challenged without casual run ins between co-workers, and that “we just don’t see each other as often,” welcoming new people to the company was also a concern. Meg wanted to create opportunity beyond casual connections to support Ancestry’s culture throughout ongoing change.
Ancestry’s engagement survey revealed that employees across teams had disagreement on the way things should be done – identifying a need to connect employees across functions for collaboration. These insights helped Meg formulate actionable goals to work towards as part of her change strategy.
- Create Personal Connections
- Bias for Action
- Empower Growth & Collaboration
Imperative conversations offered Ancestry employees a middle-ground space to bring psychological safety forward. Connecting employees across teams allowed them to better understand their own work as well as adjacent teams, humanizing work. Employees felt that they had the permission to step forward and change the way they worked and interfaced in their day to day. This allowed Ancestry to work towards their organizational goals while addressing human needs.
The results showed that leaning into the human side of change created a successful environment for change:
- Create Personal Connections: 97% of employees intended to have an ongoing relationship with their conversation partner
- Bias for Action: 82% of employees completed a behavior changing action
- Empower Growth & Collaboration: 95% of employees felt their success increase
I think conversations on Imperative are making people like feel good about the organization investing in them and in their success. And the fact that we had so many people implement and actually execute for specific changes that they were advocating for, I think is fantastic. This is a great tool to help people behave differently, and and people feel like it’s a commitment to them and to their growth in their developmentMeg Harris
Activating Change Through Meaningful Conversations
Navigating change at scale doesn’t have to be complex. Learn more about how we can help you navigate change at your organization.
Learn more about how Imperative can help you activate change at your organization.