Is the Management of Change a Key Driver of Employee Engagement Today?

I was delighted to participate in a recent panel on the Future of Engagement at the beautiful offices of Paul Hastings in New York City. The panel was sponsored by Instinctif Partners and the Employee Engagement Awards, hosted and moderated by Arielle Lapiano, Director of Communications at Paul Hastings, and included Bernie Charland from CPP Investment Board, Lauren Kucic from JP Morgan Chase, Victoria Lewis-Stephens from Instinctif, and my friend and former colleague Paul Thomas of UBS.

I learned a lot from the discussion, but the biggest take-away I had was that the topic of managing change dominated a discussion that was supposed to be about employee engagement. After the panel, I felt a little downhearted that we had spent so much time on change, essentially turning Instinctif and Employee Engagement Awards into false advertisers. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we were staying on topic: change today is a key driver of employee engagement.

As so many have acknowledged, change is happening at an ever-quickening pace. Recently, I heard someone talking about a Fortune 100 company, “we used to have annual restructurings; now they are quarterly.” He wasn’t complaining, just stating the reality that for companies to keep up with the changes in the market, with new technology, with new customer expectations, with changing global political landscapes, etc., they need to be constantly evolving. And as with evolution in nature, corporate evolution often happens in discomfiting fits and starts.

There already exists a lot of great analysis on how having strong employee engagement can help a company through change. An excellent example of that is Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson‘s blog Employee Engagement as a Key Strategy for Change. However, what about the opposite side of the coin? Is change a key factor in employee engagement? More specifically, is one of the major determinants of employee engagement today how companies manage change ?

When we think of employee engagement, we often think of levers like:

  • Do employees like their jobs?
  • Do they understand and believe the purpose of the organization and how their jobs fulfill that purpose?
  • Do they feel like they are being treated fairly?
  • What is the quality of their managers and leaders?
  • Do they have the tools and training to do their jobs?

While this is not a comprehensive list, I have never seen “how well does the company manage change,” as a factor. And yet, it would seem today to be one of the most important. Does change feel like the journey towards a vision, or does it feel like tumult?

One more thought: I have often heard leaders speak about transforming their employees to become “change resilient,” often through training or incentives. While I don’t doubt that employees could be better prepared for change, I am not sure that transforming human nature which is often change resistant is a successful short or mid-term strategy. It could take a full generation before we see real results.

However, managing change correctly is something that companies can do right now. At Mercer, for instance, my communications colleague Laura Parsons has spearheaded, in partnership with HR, a change methodology and toolset that leaders and managers can use to manage through change. That would seem to be a better way to go than trying to change the very human resistance to change.

Would love to hear your thoughts on whether the management of change is a key driver of employee engagement today.

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