Transformations need structure as they require putting together a lot of pieces in a puzzle.

Currently businesses use a large suite of systems and processes from LEAN, Six Sigma, PIMBOK, Prince 2, PROSCI and Agile and so on, to drive projects and change in an organisation. As they focus on implementing the changes, daily activities turn staff into slaves, filling out increasingly large excel spreadsheets and reports, resulting in change fatigue.

I will get in trouble for saying this but I believe we have over-engineered our business transformations at the expense of engaging our people. To succeed, transformations need a large number of people from across the business to do the work. There is a lot of reactive activity in our rapidly changing and increasingly complex regulatory, consumer and media environments. It creates a lot of noise and requires quick response. In the midst of dealing with these responses we forget to invite our employees into the fold, yet they will be the ones doing the actual work. We might have given up on having the conversations because it’s all too hard and takes too long. But for change to happen successfully, your people must be invited along for the ride.

Successful transformations engage everyone from the outset. Having conversations with your people early, before embarking on that IT change program or business restructure, enables connection and lays the ground rules. I have picked up the pieces after companies left staff out of the change conversations. I’ve seen the mess. Not talking to your staff early results in miscommunication, disengagement and derailment of the project. Too often I see projects way down the track before they’ve even mentioned change is on the horizon to their people. For example, the strategy has been confirmed, there’s a new project team usually found huddled in some cramped, windowless ‘war room’ and water cooler conversations are rife with rumours of what’s coming down the pipeline – all under a ‘veil of secrecy’. All before senior executives and the project teams realise they need to bring staff into the conversation.

Mobilising your people to deliver on a strategy requires more nuanced thinking. Instead of jumping straight to the solution by telling your employees what you’re going to do and when the program will start to roll out, consider providing them with information that helps them understand the problem, the opportunities and the outcome you hope to achieve.

When staff are not involved in the conversation, they are unclear about the strategy, and what their role is in it. They will work in ways that they always do and not in ways you want them to. Absenteeism may increase and processes may decline. They will have missed out on the opportunity to bring the best of what they do into everything they do. I saw this recently in an enterprise that was two years into their strategy, three months from launching a new way of working. During this time staff were not involved in any stage of the planning, and from where I was sitting the chief was facing resistance and chaos. This could have been avoided. The strategy was not outlined from the start and the timing of staff engagement was latent.

Timing is the single most important component in gaining initial buy-in to the change. The right timing can build the required momentum to get your staff, colleagues, senior management and the boardroom excited about your strategy. Creating a strategic framework at the start of your transformation project is critical. It helps to get everyone on the same page. A robust framework will also provide an integrated approach to your technical, behavioural and communication objectives.

Communication is about informing people so that they understand the problem, objectives, and opportunities to be gained from the transformation. Key messages need to be clear and simple, and stick to the facts i.e. what you know at the time. This enables executive teams to be consistent in what they say, and your people can make informed decisions about how they will participate in the transition because they have the information they need.

To help get the best out of people and achieve higher levels of engagement and performance we need to see more professional, face-to-face conversations. Don’t leave them reading it from an email someone else sends them. Talking to your people from the outset about what you are hoping to achieve enables them to see where the project sits in the overall strategy. The conversations don’t have to be every week however they do need to be regular. Let people ask questions and provide feedback, these indicate they’re engaged.

Transformations can scare a lot of people, but in today’s workplace – managing change is what keeps people relevant. Being responsible to generate results is one thing; knowing how to make the results more sustainable, profitable and multifaceted involves input from your people. It requires everyone to lead and coordinate change in some shape or form. By putting people back into transformations, you have the opportunity to let everyone know the cumulative benefits of the change, you invite them to celebrate the milestones and you ensure the transformation is effectively implemented.