Fear of change is not uncommon. It is not necessarily a bad thing if it manifests itself as healthy skepticism rather than stubborn resistance to anything new or different. Among the leaders in any organization, there may be a range of attitudes to change, from the healthy and reasonable to the downright unconstructive or even obstructive. This is why winning executive buy-in is an essential early step for an organization that is serious about making changes that are positive and strategic.
A healthy skeptic may ask a lot of questions when a change process is proposed, but if these questions can be answered clearly and constructively, highlighting the benefits of any change, the chance of winning executive buy-in is much greater.
Overall benefits of workplace change can include:
- Bringing fresh ideas and approaches to the workplace.
- New challenges that will empower employees and executives to achieve more.
- A clearer vision about the organization’s strategic goals and how they will be met.
- Exciting new technology to improve productivity and job satisfaction.
- Refreshed procedures and policies for a modern workplace.
- New employees to revitalize a workplace.
- More meaningful work for employees.
- A more diverse workplace.
- New ways to boost the bottom line.
- A positive perception of the organization for customers and external stakeholders.
A Morgan Stanley report outlines the five key workplace changes that will become permanent for many organizations, including stronger customer service focus, diversity and inclusion, an end to one-size-fits-all approaches, remote working, and modernized workplace benefits.
There are different strategies for ensuring a lack of executive buy-in does not hamper plans for powerful workplace change. When executives are resistant to change, this is a vital part of the change leadership process.
Explain the bottom line benefits
A good way to win executive buy-in for workplace change is to clearly explain how the changes will have a positive financial benefit on the organization. As well as clarity, the bottom line advantages need to be outlined with good data.
If investment is part of the process, such as investing in workplace automation technologies, it is important to explain how spending this money will ultimately help the organization make money. A clear return-on-investment timeline is essential, especially where digital transformation is involved.
When clear financial benefits to making changes are made obvious, it is much easier to win the executive buy-in that is crucial for this process. It can be hard to argue with real figures when they are presented in black and white.
Explain the non-financial benefits
For some executives, their concerns may have nothing to do with the financial benefits of change. Indeed, there may even be fears that the financial benefits may be at the expense of other things that the company values highly. It is important to highlight the less tangible benefits of change to executives as well as employees.
If there are reasons for change that involve benefits where the financial benefits may be secondary or not immediately obvious, such as improved staff morale, better training opportunities, clearer career paths for team members, or better work-life balance, it is equally important that these are communicated to executives.
Post-pandemic change management
In the past two years, Covid-19 lockdowns meant many organizations had to quickly find ways for employees to effectively work from home. For many workplaces, this felt like a radical transformation, but it was necessary for businesses to remain viable and operational during the pandemic. For many employees, remote working was a great way to be productive and maintain a good work-life balance. Now, with many regions removing pandemic restrictions, employers may be seeking to get their teams back into workplaces full-time or introducing a system of hybrid working, so employees can enjoy the balance that comes from working remotely with the human interaction that comes from being among colleagues in person.
After the past two years of upheaval, changing workplace arrangements can be confronting, not only for employees but for executives. Attitudes towards working remotely vary between executives – some have welcomed the benefits, including workplaces where employee morale has improved because of better work-life balance, as well as the cost savings of not operating a full-time office. For these executives, it may be hard to get their buy-in for a plan to get everyone back into workplaces. On the other hand, some executives may be resistant to the idea of a permanent pivot to remote or hybrid working as they might prefer a more traditional workplace set-up.
Whatever the case, change leaders need to be able to present a strong, evidence-based case for either a return to the office or permanent remote and hybrid working. It is advisable to present the costings for your case, as well as highlighting morale and productivity benefits.
It is important that executives do not feel as if they are being sidelined by any change process. This can be very disempowering and lead to resentment and a lack of cooperation during a time where handling matters sensitively can be important.
When executives are on board with the wide-ranging benefits of a change management process, everything should run more smoothly. Executives who buy into the process are more likely to facilitate change, communicate the benefits positively to employees at every level in the organization, and ensure employees are on board too.
Clearly communicating the benefits of change is reassuring and empowering for executives. If it becomes apparent that it is not a case of change for change’s sake and executives know they are an important part of the process, buy-in should follow.
When executives have a thorough understanding that change is not to be feared and the benefits properly explained, the entire workplace is stronger. Skeptics will have their questions answered and empowered executives will be the driving force for workplaces where strategic goals are made clear and everyone understands the path to reaching these milestones. Workplace change can and should be a win-win.
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