Organizations change when engaged employees recognize both why the change is needed and the potential of the proposed solution. Witnessing commitment from their leaders, having the necessary new tools and skills, and seeing support and rewards within the organization for making the change furthers their involvement. There are seven areas—seven levers of change—that set employee engagement in motion and give it momentum. The levers are not meant to be a formula, but represent seven aspects that require attention and planning for successful change management.*
The first two levers—mass exposure and personal contact—deal with making sure everyone knows about the change. The temptation to rely on posters, screen savers, web pages, all-hands meetings, and one-size-fits all awareness training is powerful. These tools have their place for conveying general information about a change to employees. Information is important, but fostering contact between advocates of the change and others affords employees the opportunity to hear about the change from people who understand and value it. These contacts can build trust and circumvent potential problems. They offer opportunities to ask questions, raise concerns, learn firsthand about advantages, and hear about temporary workarounds or potential pitfalls.
The next two levers of change deal with resistance and expertise. Whatever is driving resistance should determine how to deal with it. Avoid assumptions—listen to resisters’ concerns. They can alert change leaders to issues that can be addressed before they develop into full-blown problems. Determining if there is sufficient in-house expertise, and what to do about it if there is not, is the next lever. Hiring expertise from outside the company is sometimes necessary, but it comes with the potential to alienate existing employees. Sometimes internal talent can be developed; other times, external expertise is needed. Recognize the potential side effects of bringing in experts and take steps to mitigate or compensate for these effects in advance, thus minimizing negative side effects.
The final three levers of change deal with fostering an environment that supports the change. These are investing in infrastructure, such as tools and processes; recognizing the role of leaders to set an example; and rewarding and recognizing accomplishments. Every change requires some form of infrastructure. Whether the infrastructure is new software or improved factory processes, the budget allocated to it is an investment in making the change successful. Leaders who make the case for the change clear and integrate data from the change into their own decision making thereby signal that the change is important to the organization. Rewarding and recognizing employees’ efforts in implementing the change program is another way to make it clear that that the organization is serious about making the change work.
Last November, I blogged about a Six Sigma program implemented at Xerox, where the seven levers of change were used as an implementation framework. Heidi Grenek and Norm Fowler describe their experience: “How we were doing on the seven levers of change . . . were good predictors of whether we could expect the behaviors and decisions necessary to make [the Six Sigma program] pervasive and sustainable across the product delivery organizations at Xerox.”
In summary, the seven levers of change are: (1) fostering contacts with advocates of the change, (2) using mass exposure, (3) hiring expertise if necessary, (4) shifting resistance, (5) providing needed infrastructure, (6) leading by example, and (7) rewarding successes. Again, this is not a checklist or a pat formula. These levers provide a framework of interacting actions that leaders can use to organize any change implementation plan. None of them alone is a “silver bullet,” but used properly, they can reinforce one another to increase their effect (something I will write about in a later blog). There are myriad specific applications that fit into each lever, which vary across organizations and changes. For every change, each lever needs to be evaluated and applied as needed. Taken together, the levers can make any change program sustainable.
*More on the seven levers of change in Creating Contagious Commitment by Andrea Shapiro, Ph.D.