Changing Your Workplace Strategy? How To Get Employees Onboard

by Elizabeth Dukes on June 20, 2018

Your team is growing, and your employees are starting to complain that they’re running out of space. No one can find a meeting room when they need one, and it’s getting harder for people to concentrate with so many people taking calls at the same time. Or maybe you’ve always had assigned desks, but a third of them are sitting empty as more employees decide to work from home.

Whatever the reasons, your workplace desperately needs a change. You have buy-in from the executive team, human resources and leaders in corporate real estate and facilities management, and you’re ready to get started.

But before you can do anything, you have to get the support of your workforce. This is often easier said than done.

However, one of the most effective ways to implement a new workplace strategy is to adopt Harvard professor John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. This model has endured the test of time and is just as applicable for shifting your work settings as it is for undergoing a massive merger. Here are Kotter’s eight steps and how you can use them to get employees invested in your new workplace strategy.

Change Your Workplace Strategy In 8 Steps

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

Executing Step 1 of Kotter’s process means starting strong and explaining to the workforce that there’s no time to waste. You have to make it clear that delaying implementation of the changes is not an option.

If you approach discussions without showing your enthusiasm for starting ASAP, you can’t expect employees to be gung-ho about the changes. Your workforce will follow your lead. Make sure they know that you’re excited to get the ball rolling and emphasize you need their support.

2. Create a Guiding Coalition

It’s easier to overcome resistance to change when employees see those changes are being made by a qualified team instead of a single person. And it’s even easier to earn support when that team is composed of employees from multiple departments who are committed to the changes.

Recruit some of the more senior members of the workforce to be part of what Kotter refers to as a “guiding coalition.” By “senior members”, I don’t necessarily mean only managers. Lower-level employees who have been at the company for a few years should be invited to join the team, too. The wider the range of personalities and demographics you can include, the higher the likelihood there will be at least one team member who can connect with the rest of the workforce.

Most importantly, ensure there is open and honest dialogue not only between the team and the rest of the workforce but also between team members themselves.

3. Develop a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

If you’re going to implement changes that are going to even temporarily disrupt your organization’s work patterns, you’d better have a good reason. And you’d better also have a good plan for how the changes will be made.

Explain to employees the reason for the decision to update your physical work space or change your workplace strategy.

Related: How To Minimize Disruption While Renovating Your Office

Discuss what you hope to achieve by making the changes and how the work environment will be different once the changes have been implemented.

By being transparent and detailed from the beginning, you encourage employees to see the changes in a more tangible and less abstract way. And when they have a clearer understanding of the vision, the strategy and the intended outcome, they’re more likely to be supportive of the initiatives.

4. Communicate the Change Vision

The process of implementing changes in the workplace is challenging. And when faced with a difficult situation they might not even want, some employees will be especially resistant. But you can’t successfully make changes in the workplace if you don’t have the vast majority of the workforce on your side.

In step three, you concentrated on gaining the general support of the employees. Now, in step four, your goal is to earn the full commitment of as many employees as possible. In order to accomplish this, there are three pitfalls you must avoid:

  • Under-communicating. Don’t keep employees in the dark. Provide them with regular updates that are most relevant to them throughout the process. Given them ample opportunity to ask questions, and do your best to address each one.
  • Pushing information. You cannot simply talk at employees; you need to speak with them. You must encourage open and honest dialogue. Make it a conversation, not a lecture.
  • Not walking the talk. As mentioned earlier in this article, you need to lead by example. Embrace the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.”

5. Empower Employees for Broad-Based Action

If your organization has a strict, inflexible hierarchy, managers who aren’t on board with the change can dissuade members of their team from embracing it. When that’s the case, you need to approach these managers directly and talk about why they’re resisting the changes.

By meeting with them one-on-one, you can better address their concerns, answer their questions and communicate in the way they most prefer. Once they’re enthusiastic about the changes, they can encourage their team members to feel the same.

6. Generate Short-Term Wins

Changing your workplace strategy will take time. If you want to maintain the support and commitment of the workforce, you have to show them the project is moving forward. If there’s no demonstrable progress, employees will become discouraged and start to question your approach.

You need to make sure there are periodic “quick wins” that prove to the workforce the project is moving along as planned. Make these wins highly visible and publicly recognize the employees who contributed to them. This can help sway the members of the workforce who are still on the fence and also silence critics of the changes.

7. Sustain Acceleration

“If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Success shouldn’t make you complacent. You have to maintain the momentum all throughout the process of changing your work environment. Build on each little change as you move closer and closer to accomplishing your goals.

The more little wins you achieve, the greater your credibility. And when more of the workforce has confidence in you and your team, they’ll likely offer their assistance in making procedures and policies faster and more efficient. The time between those little wins will get smaller and smaller, further inspiring employees to support the changes.

8. Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

You’ve reached the final step of Kotter’s process. It’s time to prove to your workforce that all of the time, effort and budget invested in these changes as worth it. Present objective data about how the changes have positively impacted the organization. Be passionate as you reiterate your appreciation for the employees who supported and committed to the changes.

However, don’t focus solely on the parts of the process that went right. Let the workforce know about the roadblocks you encountered and how you plan to avoid them in the future.

When you apply Kotter’s model correctly, you’ll not only find it easier to change your current work environment, but you’ll also set a strong precedent for any future changes in the workplace. Just be confident and communicative.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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