They say change is good. But in the world of HR, change can be the difference between an employee who embraces the new reality with a renewed sense of enthusiasm, and one who throws up his or her hands, making a beeline for the exit.
Change management and employee engagement are forever intertwined, and both leave little room for error. Any significant change in the workplace can take employees out of their comfort zone and create waves of confusion and angst throughout the halls. So, organizational change can be a challenge for senior leaders who struggle to keep employees engaged as their company undergoes an identity shift.
While having open, transparent lines of communication is a must, the key to a successful outcome is also knowing how to create an environment that allows employees to experience change in a fun, engaging way.
This is where culture comes into play.
At the NY Interconnect (NYI), we faced this challenge head on this past spring when we experienced a spin-off from our parent company. The "new" NYI, a joint venture between Altice, Charter and Comcast, was established, marking a major turning point not just for the company but for our overall culture, as well.
As the new business was moving forward at lightning speed, we asked ourselves: What could we do to make sure employees embraced change and were excited and willing to give maximum discretionary effort? We knew the excitement and perks would carry us for a while, but ultimately people needed to know where we were going and why their work was critical in getting us there.
Looming deadlines didn't allow for longer, more traditional HR strategies, so we engaged our staff in short, effective bursts and leveraged some out-of-the-box ideas to help them see the bigger picture quickly and easily.
In building a new media sales business, we were essentially joining legacy organizations, each with its own distinct culture, as well as new, external talent. We wanted to recognize the various histories, but also carve out an identity that was uniquely ours; a distinct personality, inspired by the one-of-a-kind business we were becoming. (Also, as everyone wants, to be cool, fun and energizing, too!)
These days, we see pictures of on-site aerial yoga and free-flowing beer (not that there's anything wrong with that) in more and more offices. But lately, it seems that we are confusing "culture" with handing out snacks. If that were the key to employee engagement and organizational performance, it would be pretty simple to build a great culture, right?
To get there and keep employees in the loop and convey our brand goals, we followed both conventional and unconventional paths, incorporating evergreen basics (updates on organizational decisions, leadership breakfasts and an internal communication plan that conveyed our changes) with some fresh initiatives to guide employees through their own changes while ensuring they were engaged around the critical work to be done.
To consciously create our culture, as opposed to letting it just happen around us, we started by working with our senior leaders to define our vision and values. This was the first conversation of its kind for the (new) NYI and it was, at times, challenging to come up with a definitive roadmap. But once we had committed to words and phrases like "vibrant," "courage," "constant quest to be first" and "where employees thrive," it was clear there was much to be done in getting the team to seamlessly absorb these messages.
To support our "constant quest to be first," for example, we needed to understand where we weren't ranked first and why, which led to our first employee survey to solicit opinions and observations about where we weren't doing as well as we'd like and how we could improve. To mirror our vision of "nimble" we avoided any HR programs that would feel too traditional. For example, we designed an informal quarterly recognition strategy that was agile and simple -- almost like a pop-up store -- with each program incorporating different goals.
From there, we established an approach to learning that spoke to our employees -- balancing today's challenges with their opportunities for tomorrow. As a small company, traditional career paths are limited. So, we wanted to establish a learning philosophy that was open to all, designed to make anyone, in any role, an expert in all media -- and we knew that would resonate across teams. Our concern wasn't to get them ready for the next promotion; rather, we wanted to make them great wherever their journey would take them.
Courage and vibrancy mean taking risks and trying new things. But don't think we don't have our share of fun. Cube decorating contests, ugly sweater days and snacks prevailed. "Thirsty Thursdays" became an instant hit, although no one realized it was much more than a fun, seasonally themed drink cart. It was actually an exercise in empowerment, giving employee teams (from all levels) a budget and freedom to try something different, put themselves out there, take some risks and interact with their leaders and co-workers in a meaningful way. Was it fun, crazy and a little nerve-racking sometimes? Yes! But we unleashed a new sense of creativity and participation, which translated to our discussions on process improvement and product development. No one knew Thirsty Thursday was about building a culture, but it's helping us get there; now, it's everyone's favorite day of the month.
And how much more courageous could we be than at our recent all-hands meeting? Employees were given instruments and, with a two-hour training session from professional musicians, the NYI team became a true symphony orchestra, with a full chorus! We didn't sound perfect, but the experience of getting out of our comfort zones and trying something new made us realize that, together, we can make beautiful music.
There was a method to this madness; employees didn't realize that as they were taking part in a "Lunch and Learn" or decorating their cube, they were contributing to a culture we were creating. On the surface, Thirsty Thursdays seemed like a fun way to connect with a colleague -- and participating in an orchestra was just another teambuilding activity. But these initiatives were an important piece of the puzzle, creating a culture where no one was afraid to try something new, where energy flourished and where doing something better than before became the new normal. That's what happened at NYI, and in less than 12 months we created an environment that was dynamic, proactive and -- most of all -- different in all the right ways. Today, our employees are as committed and enthusiastic as they ever were (as evidenced by our recent engagement survey), despite the frenzy and uncertainty of the past year -- no easy feat!
Organizational change is a complex process that requires some serious thought. Often, however, the extensive, tried-and-true techniques for effective change management are not always the most effective for your specific workforce -- or the company culture you're looking to cultivate. So, while communication is key, so too are the channels you use to tell your story.
And just like in other aspects of life, it's the "little things" that often add up to make the biggest impact.
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