Every organization today is going through some sort of change, whether it’s technological, growth, diversification, globalization, or just the transformation of the workforce generations. Employees are expected to adapt quickly to leadership demands for increased accountability, cross-training, adaptability during restructuring, and constant change. I recently told a group of employees, “Just get yourself on the bus; don’t worry about where it’s going because where it is going will change by the time you get there. But it you’re not on the bus, you’re in trouble.”
Throughout all this tremendous upheaval, there is one question that keeps popping up from employees. We might expect that it would be, “What does this mean for me?” “What will I get out of this?” Or, “will I have a job?” But that’s not the question we hear. The question we hear is: “Is management really committed to doing what they say they intend to do? And not just at this level, but further up. Will they really provide the support needed for us to be successful?”
These questions suggest that there is a credibility gap between leadership and the workforce. The workforce isn’t quite sure that leadership will go the distance when it comes to change. They’ve seen too many initiatives start with a lot of fanfare and then fizzle. One participant in a workshop recently likened it to a fireworks display: it goes up with a lot of sparkle and oo’s and ah’s and then fizzles out just as quickly.
What are they really asking for from management/leadership? They are looking for a long term commitment from leadership to see the change through to its successful conclusion. They want to know that they will be provided with the resources to be successful. They are tired of being told that resources will be there and then finding themselves expected to fulfill an ever-expanding workload all alone. They want to believe that leadership won’t abandon them fifteen months into a three-year transformation. They want to know that leadership has done its homework and has a clear game plan for how the new organization will roll out and look. They are tired of platitudes, pep talks, and PowerPoint presentations. They are eager to hear the specific “off-ramp” list of activities that will demonstrate leadership’s commitment and prove that they know what they’re talking about.
Fixing the credibility gap is a big ticket item for leadership, especially if a “ready, fire, aim” approach is the usual planning strategy applied to most changes. Reversing this approach requires thoughtful and careful long-term planning coupled with a commitment to go the distance and suffer through the unraveling of “the current state” to succeed in achieving a “future state.” We call this the “muck in the middle” and leadership often doesn’t anticipate it, nor does it demonstrate the patience to manage the “muck” effectively.
When employees ask about whether leadership is really on-board, they are often seen as reluctant or resistant to change. It’s time to turn the tables and see these employees as excellent predictors of potential risks to come.