Employee Engagement Isn't a Sprint; It's a Marathon

employee engagement failures
Employee Engagement
A new report from HBR and Strativity Group shows how many change management initiatives fail because companies are paying lip service to employee engagement.

Peter F. Drucker said, “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got." 

The results of a recent study on change initiatives echo Drucker’s statement. “Business Change: From Disruptor to Differentiator,” from Harvard Business Review and Strativity Group, reveals that most organizations struggle with change with an astounding 91 percent saying change initiatives have failed in their organizations in the past. Only 3 percent of respondents reported that their change initiatives meet their intended goals 100 percent of the time.

Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group, said there's a general lack of discipline around change management. “People think CX is common sense. They think we don’t need to tell them how to do it, that they’ll just do it. It’s not that people don’t want to do the right thing. It’s because of multiple things that they don’t do it,” he said.

So what is it about change that makes it so hard to do?

Poor communication

The biggest culprit of why change initiatives fail is a lack of communication. In fact, 62 percent pointed to poor communication as the biggest barrier to change, 50 percent said a lack of understanding about the purpose of the change, and 25 percent of respondents to the study said that having a clear communication strategy is integral to the success of a change initiative.

Effective change management strategies must be connected to the purpose. “Tell me why I need to do this and how it will help me.” They require repeatability and reinforcement. Strategies also must communicate to and prepare the next level of managers. “A lot of these strategies die at the cooler when the supervisor says, don’t worry, it’s not going to happen. The C–level will say one thing but frontline managers often aren’t aligned to that,” Arussy explained.

It has to be inclusive, immersive, interactive, and collaborative. If you’re going to trick them as passive recipients of a new project, they’ll act like that. If you include them in the process and include them in the change, they’ll take ownership, Arussy added.

Lack of time and budget

The second biggest culprit to why change initiatives fail is lack of time and budget. In the study, 30 percent of respondents said they needed to shrink the scope of their initiatives to meet the timeliness of their projects 100 percent of time.

To quell that, Arussy said companies must start thinking about one change management program at a time and how to best prepare for ongoing change. If companies need to rescope the project, that's fine but they should also rescope the wording and communication within the strategy. “When change isn’t implemented in the speed or scope that it needs to be the organization loses its edge,” Arussy said.

A command and control leadership

Fifty-four percent of respondents cite poor leadership as the reason their change initiatives fail or don’t align to their goals. Arussy said one of the reasons is that most leaders are older than the Millennial demographic and follow a command and control style of leadership. The majority of CEOs come from operations or finance and they tend to be numbers people and not “people” people, Arussy added.

One-time training.

With new initiatives and deployments, training shouldn’t end. “Training is like brushing your teeth. Just because you did it last week, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it this week,” Arussy said.

Essentially lip service is being paid to employee engagement with companies not investing in the elements to drive action. This is important, as we are moving away from an era where organizations conduct one to two changes per year to an era that includes multiple changes per year. “We need to develop a change endurance. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. We need to change the way we change. We need to prepare organizations for a way of change that’s constant,” Arussy quipped.

He added these three suggestions for how companies can mitigate change management failures and bring about effective change quickly and thoroughly.

1. Change needs to move from departments to a competency for all employees. Companies need to teach employees the right approach to adapting to change from the beginning of their tenure.

2. Start with the 'why' before going into the tactics. Most programs focus on the tactics before starting with the causes. Use the change as a method to get to those goals.

3. Effectively communicate change to the first line of leadership. “Equip the first line of management to convey and enforce change because that’s part of their ownership,” Arussy advised.


What are some effective change management tactics that you have deployed in your organization?