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Fail to Listen, Fail to Change

Scott Heyhoe
5 min read
Fail to Listen, Fail to Change

We’re fortunate to be living in an era of accelerating change, particularly when it comes to business. Even the most traditional of industries are being disrupted by globalization, rapid competition and innovative ways of working. Digital transformation is reshaping how companies and entire sectors operate, while technologies such as artificial intelligence are dramatically changing our jobs and lives. Customers (disruptive forces in their own rights) demand more, more often, and more quickly.


To succeed in this milieu, organizations need to transform. They need to become more agile and more adaptable. And, to do that successfully, they need to embrace change management, not as single process, but as part of a broader, holistic change initiative.  


Change management is open to interpretation

Businesses know they need to evolve. Indeed, they have no choice. But, it’s easy to think of ‘the organization’ as though it’s some inanimate object. A business is first and foremost, a group of people, organized to achieve the aims of that business. If the business must change, the people too within it must change.


Consequently, change management is about leading and managing people through a transformation. They need to be convinced of the need for change and to ‘buy-in’ the change. This is much more difficult when it involves cultural change, which can be hard to understand and measure.


The eight steps to successful change

How can businesses overcome these perfectly natural and expected fears and come through the other side? We’ve taken the eight step model developed by Harvard Professor, John P Kotter and put forward our perspectives on how employee feedback and insights can facilitate change at each stage.


1. Create a sense of urgency

“Help others see the need for change through a bold, aspirational opportunity statement that communicates the importance of acting immediately.”

This is great. We’ve noticed that when you listen to your workforce ‘before, during and after’ these communications, you can see very quickly what people are thinking, and how they are feeling and acting as a result. For example, if employee sentiment takes a dive after your CEO announces the ‘new plan’, it’s time to take corrective action. Too often, change is seen as ‘the leadership’ broadcasting to the masses, but for change to take root, you absolutely need the ‘masses’ to be broadcasting to the leadership.


2. Build a guiding coalition

“A volunteer army needs a coalition of effective people – born of its own ranks – to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.”

Businesses are urged by Professor Kotter to form a team or teams from across the business to drive some or all of the change process. Understanding how well that team is performing, whether it has the right resources and, is being supported by the business is critical.


3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives

“Clarify how the future will be different from the past and how you can make that future a reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.”

Measuring the impact of any change initiative goes without saying. Do your people feel part of the change, or just on the receiving end? Have the changes made a positive difference to them as individuals as well as the bottom line?


4. Enlist a volunteer army

“Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity.
They must be bought-in and urgent to drive change – moving in the same direction.”

A combination of continuous listening to garner insight from across the business, together with specific team performance deep dives will ensure that everyone in the business is onboard with the change, and any hotspots or misses addressed.


 5. Enable action by removing barriers

“Removing barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies provides the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact.”

In times of transformation, the psychological safety – in other words, the sense of security that a person feels in raising concerns, challenging the norm, even suggesting alternative changes initiatives – is critical. Establishing a mechanism for open and continuous feedback with people involved in these ‘processes’ day-to-day can result in better outcomes. Watch our webinar on ‘Agile Teams’ for more this topic in particular.


 6. Generate short-term wins

“Wins are the molecules of results. They must be recognized, collected and communicated – early and often – to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.”

A “win” here is a positive outcome as a result of a change initiative. By establishing a continuous listening program that allows for regular pulse surveys and deep dives, organizations can spot both issues and opportunities. Communicating and taking action based on what they see means everyone in the business understands where improvements and impacts are being embedded. Openly recognizing change champions and showcasing organizational best practices are equally important ways to celebrate success. How you celebrate that success is up to you. Some people like a post-card from the CEO, some a prize or gift presented on a stage somewhere, and some the quiet satisfaction of an experience day.


7. Sustain acceleration

“Press harder after the first successes. Your increasing credibility can improve systems, structures and policies. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.”

This phase is all about building on the visible and celebrated successes. Collaborate with peers and others across the business who have had similar challenges and opportunities. Importantly, learn and share best practices. For example, you could create and document your own improvement actions for sharing and repeating.


8. Institute change

“Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits.”

You’re almost there. Keep going. Just keep going. Listen continuously and be prepared for the workforce to broadcast to the senior management. Listen specifically ‘before, during and after change’ initiatives to test sentiment and engagement. Respond very quickly to drops in sentiment or engagement. Even consider building up your own library of improvement actions and best practices.


In summary, successful change management should address ‘soft’ factors such as employee sentiment, attitudes and engagement. It’s vital to measure these alongside hard facts, such as improvements in efficiency, productivity or sales. At the same time, ensure you have a feedback platform in place that enables you to create a regular, ongoing dialogue with your people, measuring their attitudes over time, listening to their ideas and enabling you to act on their concerns. If any of these elements are missing, there’s every risk that the desired change program, and promised business transformation benefits it’s intended to bring, will fall short of expectations.


Questback has worked with some of the world’s largest organizations as they’ve undergone transformational change, providing them with a platform to listen to their people, monitor progress and engagement, and take steps to drive success.

Watch our Webinar on Change Management to find out how we can help you motivate your employees to contribute to the positive transformation of your business.



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