Lowering the Risk of Change to Innovate Faster

Professional services is notoriously cautious, with firms historically reacting to instead of shaping change.

2 Minute Read

It’s understandable – these are businesses whose “products” are people, and change is difficult for people to digest. Given questionable success rates, why move from the status quo? But in an increasingly competitive market driven by technology and global talent pools (among other factors), services are being commoditized and change is becoming increasingly unavoidable. It seems then that the logical solution isn’t to avoid change, but rather to find ways to mitigate the risk and increase the percentage chance of success.

Change management usually falters due to poor execution. One common mistake is overlooking the perspectives of those who will implement and live with these changes; without their buy-in, even well-intentioned programs struggle to gain traction and leaders are left policing poor compliance. Another misstep is designing programs that don’t account for the relevant workforce’s existing strengths and avoid leaning on weaknesses – unsurprisingly, they have little chance of survival given they’re asking employees to use skills they don’t have. Seeking a “magic bullet” is another common oversight – instead of trying to craft a perfect program (if such a thing even exists), start with a small pilot, and iteratively improve based on day-to-day reality.  

This article delves into the art of designing and executing programs that actually stick with your workforce so you can lower the risk out of change and move forward with confidence.  

1. Empowering Employees as Agents of Change. Change is usually crammed down from the boardroom and seen by frontline employees as a blow to withstand. When communicating for action, center your program around the employees instead of the corporate entity. Ask a select group how these changes might be viewed, and then once you understand the landscape, clearly articulate the purpose, benefits, and role employees will play in bringing it to life. By presenting employees with a clear call to action and reason to care, you inspire them to take ownership and drive the change process. Tips:

- Highlight Personal Impact: Communicate the direct benefits of the change initiative by linking it to personal and professional gains for employees. For instance, you might explain that a new software is being implemented in response to frontline or client feedback, to reduce time and mistakes, or to save budget that will be reinvested in higher-need areas. Tailor these messages to show employees the tangible improvements they can expect in their daily roles, thereby giving them a reason to care about success.  

- Recognition Programs: Develop a recognition program that celebrates individuals who exemplify leadership and commitment to the change initiative. This could involve featuring employees in townhalls, firmwide emails, or in team meetings. The key is to make these recognitions public and coveted, setting the recognized employees as examples and motivating their peers to emulate their enthusiasm and engagement. Such recognition not only boosts morale but also encourages a culture of proactive adaptation and pride in personal contributions to company goals.

- Clear and Actionable Objectives: Each communication related to the change should not only explain the “why” behind the change but also the “how” at an individual level. Clearly outline the specific actions required from employees and how these tie into the broader objectives of the change initiative. To give a simple example, if a new process requires training, specify the completion date for the training and how this training will enable the individual’s and the organization’s success to provide a clear roadmap of expectations and their role in achieving them.

2. Tailoring Messages to Smaller Groups. To effectively communicate for action, consider groups within your organization with similar responsibilities and tailor your messages to resonate with them. Tips:

- Segment the Message: Implement a communication segmentation strategy that considers specific roles and departments within your organization. For each group, develop messages that highlight the specific changes, their implications and your expectations, along with any benefits. For instance, for a new customer relationship management software system, you may communicate to sales teams how the changes will lead to a more collaborative commission structure, while for IT staff you might emphasize that they could see an increase in calls as users get used to the new program and help them develop a list of questions they are likely to receive so they are prepared. A tailored approach ensures that each employee understands the change in the context of their individual role.

- Team Sessions: For complicated programs, organize localized team sessions led by department heads that focus on the direct impact of the organizational changes on those particular teams. These sessions should be interactive, allowing team members to ask questions, express concerns, and understand the specifics of how their work environment will be altered. This not only helps in clarifying the message but ensures any important feedback is surfaced early in case nuances have been missed.

- Department-Specific FAQs: Develop a set of FAQs for each relevant department, addressing anticipated questions and concerns that are unique to that group. Distribute these FAQs as part of your change communications and make them easily accessible, possibly through the company’s internal website. Regularly update these FAQs based on ongoing feedback and questions to provide clear and immediate answers.

3. Leveraging Strengths and Addressing Weaknesses. Successful change initiatives not only require the buy-in of those affected, but also need to be strategically designed to leverage the inherent strengths and skillfully manage the weaknesses within your workforce. Customizing programs to align with capacities and limitations not only increases the odds of success but also boosts morale and engagement by showing employees that the organization is aligned around their unique abilities.

- Using Employee Strengths for Equally Strong Programs: Develop a roadmap that is paved with projects or tasks that naturally align with the existing strengths of your team members. For instance, if certain team members excel in customer relations, involve them in roles that bridge the transition for clients or stakeholders during the change. Similarly, if there are people who already exhibit the core skills necessary to the change, ask them to be champions and help bring others along – a practical example might be asking more tech-savvy employees to champion a new software system after having them pilot it first so they’re in a position to field questions from peers and can talk about its positive attributes.

- Avoid Overreliance on Weaknesses: Where possible, design change initiatives to minimize dependence on weak areas. For instance, if a change initiative requires strong data analysis but this isn’t your team’s strong suit, adjust the project to focus on qualitative insights that your team is more adept at handling. Where you can’t sidestep a skill, integrate external experts as temporary scaffolding. For example, if a new system is essential but beyond the current capability of your IT staff, hiring temporary specialized IT consultants to manage the setup and initial operation can ensure that the project does not falter and users have a consistently positive experience. Finally, plan the change initiative in stages where the initial stages are the easiest for the team, giving them time to build momentum and avoid overloading the team with several tasks at the outset.

4. Consistent, Two-Way Communication. By consistently reiterating key messages through multiple mediums and managers, organizations can help solidify the change initiatives and ensure that new behaviors are deeply embedded. Simultaneously, communication should be a two-way street so employees feel valued and identify areas where additional support might be needed, while also providing insights that can be used to refine communication strategies or even adjust the change initiatives themselves. Tips:

- Repetition and Varied Communication Formats: Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer, but simply repeating the same message in the same way is monotonous. Employ a variety of communication formats to maintain engagement and cater to different preferences and learning styles. For instance, critical updates might be communicated in a formal email, reinforced through a video message from leadership, and discussed in team meetings by team leads so it isn’t just “corporate speak” but coming from messengers that matter.

- Effective Feedback Collection Channels: Establishing multiple, accessible channels for feedback is essential to understand the impact of change initiatives and to gather insights into employee concerns and experiences. Implement regular surveys, maintain open suggestion boxes or identify the leader to whom concerns should be addressed, and hold interactive town hall meetings that allow for real-time questions and answers. Additionally, encourage managers to ask about initiatives in their one-on-one meetings with team members to gather feedback from those who may not otherwise speak up.

- Real-Time Adjustments: Once feedback is received, categorize and analyze it to pinpoint actionable insights. Prioritize the feedback based on urgency and impact, focusing first on issues that threaten core functionalities or widespread satisfaction. Involve key stakeholders in this process to ensure buy-in and utilize their insights for better-designed responses. Implement the refined solutions, continuously monitor their impact, and be prepared to make further adjustments. Additionally, establish clear “kill criteria”—objective measures that determine when a project should be discontinued if it fails to meet essential benchmarks or negatively impacts the organization. This iterative process ensures that the change management strategy remains flexible, aligned with reality, and prudently managed with predefined conditions for termination to avoid prolonged commitment to failing initiatives.


Given change is inevitable, the question for your firm is: Will change be a reactive game of “catch up” to stay alive another day, or about innovating to meet the market’s new demands with resonance? It should be the latter, and mitigating the risks that usual derail change can help you move from change being tolerated as a reactive necessity. For help developing programs that resonate with your specific workforce and are more likely to succeed, reach out to Maior for a brainstorm session.  

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