How to launch a workplace change management program

Best practices for developing and putting a plan into place

November 17, 2021

For years, companies used change management programs to achieve desired outcomes. Usually, there was a specific event that triggered the need for change. The plan was linear and ended after the new process or behavior was fully realized. Now, we think differently about change. It’s infinite, ongoing and continuously evolving. It's a journey that sets the organization up for success in the long term. We think about this process as success management.

Change - why now?

The pandemic cast a bright light on the need for organizations to be resilient and flexible, not only to support the business, but to support employees. Creating a flexible workplace strategy is one way to accomplish both goals. Consider how people’s preferences and views about work have changed over the last 18 months. Chances are, it’s radically different. It’s crucial to gather employee sentiment regularly to understand how their priorities have evolved over time. According to JLL research, flexibility has become a must-have, and work-life balance now tops salary as employees’ main workforce priority. More people value empathy and transparency from their employers and want support for how they do their jobs. In fact, 72 percent of people feel it’s very important to work for an organization with a purpose they believe in, but only 49 percent believe in their current employer’s purpose.

Chief human resources officers (CHROs) and other C-level executives must take these new attitudes and preferences into account when creating workplace and workforce strategies. Space and office policies are changing as a result of the pandemic. We see the office as the center of the workplace ecosystem, but there’s also a time and place for remote work. While aspects of collaboration and socialization are clearly more effective in-person, individual work can be completed from anywhere. As a result, there’s a difference between the “place” and the “space.”

Place is the location where work happens and space supports the specific work that gets done. Employees might collaborate at their company headquarters to solve a complex problem, or they might reserve individual huddle rooms to complete independent work. It’s important to understand the distinction between place and space, and more CHROs are understanding why where and how people do their work can be part of what attracts and retains the best talent. In fact, where they work now rivals other top draws such as compensation, benefits, tools for getting work done and the manager-employee relationship. Helping employees understand this new proposition, their role and what to expect from their employer moving forward is crucial and will require a success management program.

A success management program speeds up adoption and acceptance of new strategies or behaviors by outlining a plan and explaining how it will come to life. How can you ensure its success? Start with a cross-functional team, develop a strategy and ensure you have the people and resources in place to carry it out. 

Watch this video to learn about success management, and tips for companies to get started.

Elements of an effective success management program

At its essence, a success management program to introduce flexible work carries out the adaptations within a company’s execution plan. The program also details how employees will return to the office in a way that makes them feel safe, supported and engaged. And it ensures that employees are connected and happy so they can be productive regardless of their location. 

To foster a sense of culture while maintaining productivity, an effective success management program to introduce flexible work must include:

  • A cross-functional team
  • A clear, concise and agreed upon vision of the change
  • Decisions about how the change will be governed and measured
  • A line of sight to potential risks and opportunities
  • An implementation plan
  • A communication plan for employees
  • Training sessions
  • Incentives to support new behaviors

A cross-functional team. Before anything else can happen, you need to build a cross-disciplinary team. This team should include a dedicated manager, team or change management office to oversee the transition, and representatives from HR, real estate, IT and the business units to ensure that work is coordinated and supports the intended workplace behaviors.

The success management program team will oversee the implementation and logistics, including workspace design and office technology upgrades. They make sure employees get the support they need, whether they’re working in the office or remotely. The team can also pilot space redesigns and schedules for when people will work in the office.

A well-conceived strategy. A flexible work strategy will vary based on a company’s needs, industry, existing culture and real estate portfolio, among other factors.

Companies that historically tied their success to having people present in an office are more likely to create a flexible work strategy where more people work in person because it deepens their culture. Companies from a variety of industries have already announced such strategies. By contrast, companies whose industry, products or services support remote work are more likely to create a strategy that supports people working virtually—some or all the time—because it aligns with their core business and mission. Large enterprises with a mixed workforce of manufacturing and office staff, or with locations spanning different countries or urban, suburban and rural areas, may use a combination of strategies customized to their needs.

We’ve seen that success management programs with a strong strategy are significantly more likely to meet an organization’s objectives. Don’t leave any stone uncovered as you develop the strategy—consider changes to operations, corporate culture, management, talent and talent acquisition to create new ways of working. 

Steps to carry out the strategy. The second building block is a well-defined plan for taking a flexible work strategy from concept to reality. Developing a plan means reviewing the status quo and the changes a company needs to make to its existing locations, office space, workforce and how work is done to support the new strategy. As part of a plan, leaders must understand the parts of the new strategy that the current or prospective workforce would value, so they can communicate those aspects during the roll-out.

The level of flexibility at the workplace can vary, but the process for implementing the strategy is universal. It all starts with determining a policy, rolling it out and tweaking it based on what’s working and what can be improved. 

Communication. Navigating the transition to a more flexible workplace requires explaining what’s happening to employees in a way that is thorough, transparent and authentic. Above all, any communication must focus on what they stand to gain. If the only thing communicated about a change is how the company benefits and people can’t relate changes to their own positions, they could be less inclined to stick around to see how things play out.

To put the focus on employees, companies can craft communications to answer the following:

  • Why are changes happening?
  • How does it affect me?
  • Why should I want to go along with the changes?
  • When will changes happen?
  • What do I need to know?
  • Do I need any new skills?
  • How will you make sure that changes “stick?”

Companies used to invest a lot of time deciding on people’s workspaces—who got an office, who sat in shared workplaces and so on. Now, a company may change the physical layout of its office to provide more space for collaboration, training and amenities. Or an organization may decide to shift to shared seating to accommodate people coming in the office on alternate days. HR or other leaders must be prepared to explain what’s happening and engage with employees during the transition to formalize the set up.

Leaders must be more purposeful in how they communicate with and manage direct reports, including how they talk about performance. If direct reports work both in the office and remotely, managers can’t rely on presence and observation alone to judge performance. They must measure performance through outcomes. Supervisors need to be prepared to talk about outcomes and how employees are progressing toward them—even when they can’t see the work happening.

In addition to one-on-one communication, companies can:

Use a variety of means to convey information during and after the change in strategy, including digital platforms where employees can communicate via instant messaging, or intranet sites to house information and frequently asked questions.

Provide information on a regular basis so employees can access it based on need.

Write messaging about the implementation so it’s empathic, inclusive and compassionate, to consider the demands and challenges employees may be dealing with outside the office.

Training. Companies can foster a motivating and supportive environment by embracing ongoing training. Any training must start at the top, with leaders modeling the behaviors they want to see in the workforce. This includes committing to follow the style of flexible work that the company has mapped out rather than falling back on previous behaviors, so direct reports see leaders walking the walk and not just talking the talk. At companies where employees have the option of working remotely, training should cover the channels of communication they are expected to use, including any new technologies. And companies must offer training for any aspect of a person’s job that’s changing because of the shift to a flexible work strategy. For example, if companies offer online trainings on new skills in addition to holding classes in person, they should first train employees on what they need to know to take an online class.

Training also enhances how quickly employees will buy-in to changes. If a company is instituting different policies for different facets of its workforce, the right training can help employees see how policies support the way that people need to work to reach desired outcomes and performance.

Incentives. A balance of tangible and intangible employee incentives reinforces communication and training. For example, some companies are offering free meals and giveaways for those who return to the office. Others are encouraging employees to post office photos on internal communications channels and social media to encourage others to return. Be careful not to take an "out of sight, out of mind” approach when it comes to remote employees. They require the same attention to ensure they feel connected and engaged in their work. Consider incentives that entice them: gift cards to order lunch delivery coffee or the means to spruce up their remote workspace.

Lastly, incentives don’t have to end once there’s a certain number of people at the office. In fact, it might be necessary to motivate employees to come to the office regularly. Tuesday through Thursday have the highest attendance in a typical week, so encouraging people to be in the office on Monday and Friday is critical to maintaining a steady cadence of attendance at the workplace. Building a robust program will set you up for success.

Embracing a flexible change management program at work isn’t like running a change management program to improve customer service or purchasing and training on new software. The stakes are higher—a good outcome sets up the company’s workplace and workforce for the future. Programs should take evolving work preferences into account, foster honest communications and provide ongoing training so changes become part of the culture. Pulse surveys and tracking place and space use through dynamic occupancy management can provide feedback on what’s working so companies can adjust when necessary and adapt to new challenges. All of that can build trust and loyalty, which serves both the organization and its people.

Visit our website to define what the future of work means for your organization in order to foster a top-notch employee experience, optimize your portfolio and identify the technology that can make it happen.