Critical Leadership Actions for Change: Explaining the Why

Change is necessary in order for organizations to evolve successfully. Change can also bring with it a volcano of emotions from those who are affected. Surprise, confusion, and even fear are common responses from employees after learning about an upcoming change. If these reactions are not addressed appropriately, it is nearly impossible to produce the transformation that is intended by implementing the change. How leadership addresses and minimizes concerns to obtain critical support can be as simple as explaining the why.

  • Why This Change Is Necessary: Be direct in laying out the new goals, what was being done before the change initiative to obtain the goals, and why it wasn’t working.

  • Why This Change Will Work: Explain the expected impact this change will have, on who and how.

  • Why Measurement is Important: Be clear in describing how the organization plans to track the impact of this change to ensure it is having the intended impact.

The more employees are aware of and can understand why and what is expected of them from this change, the less resistant they are. This is not to say that trade secrets or personnel files should be exposed, but it is certainly important to provide enough information to help employees recognize the logic. Explaining the why also helps employees plan for what’s to come, which in turn minimizes the fear that goes along with the unknown. Finally, running through these why objectives is a helpful exercise for leadership, and will sometimes even identify gaps or that the change initiative is premature.

Here is an example. ADI implements Performance Scorecards with many of the organizations we work with. This can be a huge change to an organization as it modifies how employees are evaluated and even how they are paid. For a call center business that is implementing a new performance scorecard system, this would be the ideal delivery:

  • Why This Change Is Necessary: “Our goal is to receive 90% or higher scores on the bulk of our customer surveys and we have been falling significantly short of that goal. We thought more training would help and it did a little, but our scores are still low. As a result, we’ve lost some of our biggest clients.”
  • Why This Change Will Work: “With this pay-for-performance system, we’ve identified the critical on-call behaviors that result in high customer survey results. By sampling just a few calls a week, we can reinforce and reward you when those behaviors happen. Using this system will encourage the right behaviors, provide an opportunity to compensate those who do this well, and it will enhance the customer experience for our callers.”
  • How the Impact Will Be Measured: “We’ll make sure we’re seeing needed improvements in two ways. First, the scores on the scorecard should be gradually increasing as you become more familiar with this system and work to shape these good behaviors into strong habits. Second, we’ll also continue to monitor the customer survey results to make sure they are trending up as well.”

Whether the change is to personnel, process, structure, expectations, or something else, it is the responsibility of leadership to validate and value the reactions of employees while also ensuring the change has the desired impact. That’s why before you roll out a big change initiative, you’ll want to make sure your organization is ready for it (see Another Failed Changed Initiative: 3 Roadblocks to Successful Change and How to Remove Them). Once you have determined it is go-time, explaining the why before implementation increases the chances of effective change, which is a win for everyone.

Posted by Emily Moses

Emily Moses is an adviser and partner to clients across industries, and has a unique understanding of the driving forces of behavior, how profit and loss impact a company's sustainability, and how these variables interrelate.