People Over Process: The Human Element of Successful Change

I was talking with a client in late March (which seems like a lifetime ago) and she used the phrase “old world, new world” to differentiate how her firm is rapidly redefining ways of operating for employees during this pandemic. As I listened, she voiced concerns that are familiar to all of us. “How do we move forward when there’s so much uncertainty? How do we rebuild our collective confidence?” On a personal level, we need to feel confident that we can maintain safety for ourselves and our family. Professionally, we must have confidence in our ability to perform in this “new world” and that comes, to a great extent, from having confidence in our organizations’ leaders.

In my years of experience as an executive coach and leadership specialist, I’ve observed and facilitated change initiatives in Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. Across the board, I’ve found that the most successful leaders share one key trait: the ability to build trust and confidence during times of change by placing the human factor of transformation first. As organizations start to come back post-quarantine, acknowledging and addressing the human factor effectively for employees is critical. This means setting aside shifts in operations and procedures in change management plans and focusing first on helping people navigate this massive work/life transition.

Prioritizing the human factor requires actively engaging people about their experience of change – understanding the unique, personal, and emotional nature of the process. The best way for leaders to support people through this is to build trust, reduce anxiety and create a culture where being vulnerable and taking risks are encouraged as paths to learning and innovation. Doing so paves the way to bolder product and service innovations, increases leadership bench strength and positions the organization to attract top talent. On the flip side, I’ve witnessed well-intentioned managers who concentrated their change management efforts mainly on process with minimal emphasis on people. In those instances, the results were inhibited learning, diminished trust and lowered confidence and competence, all of which could have been avoided by simply putting people first.

There’s no question that the world is paying close attention to how well organizations take care of their employees during this crisis, and that will continue as things return to “normal”. Focusing on the human factor during the upheaval brought on by COVID-19 is essential but, pandemic or not, I have found that putting people over process always results in a more successful change process.

In this six-part blog series we will assess your current change management approach to ensure you’re set up to accelerate transition success for your organization. We will also examine the watch outs in traditional change management approaches and explore best practices from leaders who integrate the human factor in their change efforts. For now, I’d like to leave you with a few questions to consider.

What concerns do you have as you think about your organization’s eventual return to “normal”?

What feedback are you getting regarding the impact of your leadership?

What are you feeling most confident about in terms of your own behaviors and practices?