splashing in a mud puddle
PHOTO: Josh Calabrese

The year is 1996. The internet and World Wide Web are still new and shiny. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are barely a twinkle in their founders’ eyes. John Kotter publishes his seminal book on Leading Change. Kotter preaches the need to establish a sense of urgency: the "burning platform"; the vision and strategy; employee empowerment; quick wins and then consolidation. 

While the digital world has experienced tsunami-levels of change since 1996, the same cannot be said for the world of organizational change management.

Today we aspire to be digitally-enabled, agile workplaces. We have a growing millennial workforce of social media and networking natives, not bound by the employer loyalties of their predecessors. And we have digital platforms that provide perhaps too much choice for digital workers.

On the organizational-change front, what has really changed? We still rely on the ubiquitous staff survey. Granted, we can do this more regularly now with the advent of pulse surveys, but as digital workers today we are literally ambushed by requests to complete feedback surveys — both internal and external. No one needs another survey.

Related Article: Key Skills Every Digital Workplace Practitioner Needs

How Can We Disrupt Traditional Change Management?

The principles behind Kotter’s traditional approaches are still valid, but the world is moving too fast to enable his approaches to take hold. No sooner are you setting in place a major change then the next one is on its way, if not already in progress.

I believe the answer is to remove the reliance on staff surveys to guide change initiatives. Replace the surveys by ramping up the level of digitally-enabled 360 degree conversations and using analytics to inform the change initiatives.

Too radical? We've already seen evidence of this movement toward a more informal conversational and frequent approach to employee review and engagement. Junking the traditional performance review in favor of purposeful conversations is now gaining traction. HR guru Josh Bursin’s future Employee Engagement 3.0 framework intimates this movement from annual surveys (1.0), to Pulse Surveys (2.0) to real time human behavior analytics (3.0).

employee engagement market

Related Article: How to Adapt Traditional Change Management for Digital Transformation Initiatives

Change Management 2.0?

Here are my steps for Change Management 2.0:

1. Develop and state the organizational vision.

Will still need the guiding purpose from the top. We don’t need the burning platform, it just causes unnecessary stress.

2. Provide a digital platform that facilitates free flowing organization-wide conversations, together with a "teaming" facility for day-to day-engagement around work.

Senior leaders play a key role through their active participation in these conversations and use of the digital platforms, therefore providing implicit permission for others to follow.

3. Implement an analytics platform that goes beyond traditional activity and resource utilization, to provide human and relationship-centered insights.

The Bersin Employee Engagement 3.0 framework mentions the use of organizational network analysis (ONA) and AI sentiment analysis. Online analytics can potentially deliver insights from 100% of staff in real time. I provide more detailed commentary on this here.

4. Schedule and conduct digital campaign events where leaders can have the opportunity to engage with staff at large and gain immediate feedback.

Digital campaigns are now becoming more commonplace among internal communications staff. Demonstrated best practices come from many sources. Analytics can be used to assess the effectiveness of such campaigns.

5. Develop a set of baseline metrics for employee engagement around the change initiative and then monitor them continuously. Pay particular attention to your digital “Teaming” environment. It is the bonds formed through the day-to-day interactions that underpins employee experience and the resulting workplace culture.

It is no longer the case that a change initiative needs to move to the beat of the staff survey drum. Online analytics for digital platforms can be continuous, allowing you to undertake required interventions instantly at the time and point of need. I addressed the development of online cultural maps in a previous CMSWire article on analytics and employee engagement.

According to a recent ADP Research Institute study on employee engagement, the world-wide average of staff being fully engaged in their work is only 16%. However, “… being part of a team makes a huge difference. In the UAE, 29% of workers who are on a team are fully engaged. But for workers there who aren’t on a team, that figure plummets to 7%”. 

6. Remove the word "program" or "project" from your change initiatives. In today’s digital world, change is "business as usual."

digital change
Many of us who have spent a few decades in the "enterprise" workplace have countless memories of painful and usually failed change projects. As Woody Allen once said: “one day I woke up and suddenly I was part of someone else’s plan.” It doesn’t have to be so!