2023 Trends: A Holistic Approach to Change Management

Finding mutual alignment to define a change management plan that encourages employee engagement and communication is the path forward, says Perkins&Will’s Kelly McEachern.

– We’re ringing in the new year with more 2023 trends & predictions! See them all here. –

change management plan
Hospitality Lounge Design by Perkins&Will

As companies seek to bring employees back into the office, workplaces have become more flexible, engaging, and hospitable—enabling greater choice and autonomy to be built into the corporate landscape. While this approach is one we fully support, these design solutions alone are not achieving the intended result. We still see a reluctance on the employees’ part to report to the office regularly.

The pandemic, and in turn the great resignation, have placed employees firmly in the driver’s seat. Many have gained new power to demand and receive the working conditions of their choosing. Often, their preference is for the work-from-home model. At the same time, some leadership teams are struggling to maintain the company vision and goals of an engaging work culture in light of decreased office attendance. The typical compromise is the hybrid model, with employers providing perks and incentives—free food, free drinks, and a variety of beautiful hospitality spaces—to encourage in-office attendance. Despite these efforts, many employees continue to prefer working from home. If a beautifully designed workspace (even coupled with free gourmet coffee) isn’t enough to make an office “commute-worthy,” then what is?

A mutually aligned purpose is the only path forward. The success and happiness of the employee should result in the success and happiness of leadership, and vice versa. Finding mutual alignment means defining a vision that encourages employee engagement and communicating it clearly.

Beyond the Survey: Make Employees the Champions of Change Management

Employee engagement plans must dig deeper than general polls and surveys. Many companies are surveying staff but failing to ask the most effective questions, sometimes also responding ineffectively to the feedback. When surveys have leading questions, employees will understand how to choose the right responses to navigate the data. For example, if the survey asks, “Are you working efficiently at home?”, an employee may select “Yes,” even if it isn’t true, because they believe it will help maintain the remote work model. A better method would be to ask scenario-based questions such as, “If you come into the office for a client meeting, what kind of opportunities would you take before and after that meeting?” This prompts the employee to consider the possibility of grabbing coffee with a coworker, or getting some heads-down work done in a setting free of all the distractions of home.

A successful change management plan needs to build excitement by engaging team members in the process in a meaningful way.

A successful change management plan needs to build excitement by engaging team members in the process in a meaningful way. By helping to build the protocols, employees will become the champions of the process.

Be Transparent: Communicate the Real Drivers of Change

A partnership between leadership and teams depends on trust. Individuals can understand and support the company drivers when presented with clarity and transparency. If leadership teams want employees to return to the office, the main reasons and goals behind that desire should be communicated. Simply telling teams that they need to come into the office because there is an office is not motivating that action. Leaders need to be honest about what the real reasons are, whether it’s that the client’s aren’t satisfied, or that teams aren’t producing the same quality of work at home. Companies should trust that their employees can understand the business drivers for the changes they are implementing and partner with them for change.

Communicating change management effectively means understanding the role of each key player and best utilizing these different perspectives.

How to Communicate: Who Delivers the News

Part of communicating necessary changes to employees is understanding who should deliver the message. An external consultant, such as a workplace strategist or designer, can explain what kinds of strategies are helping companies elsewhere. They can present hard data, rather than what could be received as agenda-driven messaging if voiced by an employer. Company leadership should be the ones delivering actual policies, as they will be carrying out the plan in the long term. If an incentive for returning to the office is free parking, for example, then that message should come directly from leadership. An HR representative is there to act as a friend. They are there to field employee questions and concerns, and to improve employee buy-in with the policies and the reasons behind them. Communicating change management effectively means understanding the role of each key player and best utilizing these different perspectives.

It’s a Trial not a Mandate: Piloting Change

Even when a change has been implemented, the process is not over. Change is not a finish line. It’s important to always repeat the process of gathering feedback and improving. It would be advantageous for companies to pilot a certain incentive for a specific amount of time and then review whether it is having the intended effect. Change management quickly sours when a leader doesn’t deliver what was promised. There should never be a promise of a future reality, but rather an honest and respectful approach to working together toward a common goal. 

Marrying Workplace Design with Communication

Workplace design is an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole story. We can spend time and effort building beautiful work/lounge spaces, only for the space to remain empty due to fear that using such spaces may give the wrong impression (one of not being productive). When providing these alternative work spaces such as lounges or working cafes, company leadership needs to communicate how the space can be utilized and encourage their teams to use the spaces as intended. These spaces should be celebrated. Let employees know that it’s safe to use them in this way and lead by example.

Valuable team players cannot be bought with free Starbucks.

Top-down mandates don’t work for anyone. Leaders don’t want to give them and employees don’t want to receive them. At the same time, offering employees every perk their hearts desire isn’t getting results either. Valuable team players cannot be bought with free Starbucks. Our workplaces are evolving quickly and we must envision an environment where each team member is a valuable participant and winning player. True engagement with employees—listening and being ready to pivot to try something new when necessary—is the only way forward.

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