Thriving Through Human Connection: Dr. Patti Fletcher on Change Management

November 20, 2020 Jess Huckins

5-minute read

Last week, our VP of Brand Marketing Dr. Patti Fletcher took the main stage at Frontline Summit, a virtual conference for operations, marketing, customer experience, and people leaders who are committed to improving the experience for front-line workers. Her session, “Thriving Through Human Connection,” focused on the business benefits of doubling down on human connection. 

Change management is challenging for any organization, especially those with people on the front lines during a global pandemic. Citing data from Willis Towers Watson, Patti explained that 75% of change management programs fail – not because leaders don’t have a great vision or aren’t smart enough to pull them off, but because changing yourself is hard and leading other people through a major transition is even harder. Frontline Summit organizers polled attendees during Patti’s talk, and 80% of those who responded claimed to have been a part of a failed change management program, falling right in line with trends shown in the research.  

“Change management is more than doing things differently,” Patti said. “It’s believing that things are different. It’s having different values; it’s having different relationships and interactions with each other.”  

 Seeing the humanity in everyone 

Patti went on to explain that 96% of people fail to make and stick to changes in their own values and behavior. “If we struggle with ourselves, how the heck are we going to enable the people around us to change?” she asked.  

But failing to master change management is not an option. Even before a global pandemic shifted how front-line workers approached their roles and responsibilities, we were often in a state of uncertainty. “McKinsey research found that agile organizations, those that can morph into different versions of themselves, have different relations, different interactions, different outcomes, different employee and customer experiences – it’s agile organizations that have a 70% chance of being in the top quartile of organizational health, and that is exactly what you need in order to adapt to change because it is the best indicator of long-term performance,” Patti said.  

So, how do you become part of the 25% of organizations that master agility and change to succeed through crisis and uncertainty? 

Patti loves the Prosci ADKAR® Model, which places intense focus on the people side of change. “It’s about meeting people where they are in order to get them to where they need to be,” she said.  

 ADKAR stands for: 

  • Awareness of the need for change: “I can’t think of anything quite like a global pandemic to say, ‘There is change afoot.’” 

  • Desire to support the change: “We have to get people to the point of desire to be a part of the solution that results from that change.” 

  • Knowledge of how to change: “We usually drop the ball on this. We expect people to change, but we don’t really give them a map of what that might look like.”  

  • Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors: “Then we have to give them those new skills – upskilling, modeling new behaviors of what it looks like to live in this new world.” 

  • Reinforcement to make the change stick: “A lot of times we go through this hard work … but then we don’t reinforce those behaviors. We don’t say to people, ‘This new way of behaving is fantastic.’” 

Many of our work systems are more than 100 years old, and when we’re mired in the bureaucratic process of change management, we often forget that everyone we are working with and leading is a human just like us. One example Patti offered is to prioritize using the word “people” instead of the more-common “users” when working in enterprise software.  

“Brick buildings don’t do business with brick buildings,” Patti said. “People do business with people. We have to remember, when it comes to change, we are dealing with human beings here and people will not change when you tell them to. … They change when you enable them to.” 

Reinforcing change with recognition  

One mechanism for embracing humanity and reinforcing change is peer-to-peer employee recognition. A values-based, people-first recognition program aligns to company values and supports human connection in the workplace. That connection can’t simply be top-down, either – it’s “key to creating a culture where every single person in your organization can thrive,” Patti explained, and that means involving everyone. When employees at the same level can recognize each other as well as give appreciation up and down the organization, human connection in an organization will skyrocket.  

One of the stories Patti shared was from Workhuman® customer Baystate Health, which found that nurses who received three or more recognition moments in 2018 had a turnover rate 7x less than those who received no recognition.  

This is because of the words “thank you.” Recognition has the power to strengthen connections within and across teams, which is one of the indicators of organizational health. It fuels agility and trust during times of change. In fact, Workhuman research has found that workers thanked in the last month at companies that have been through a major change in the last year are 2x as likely to trust in their company’s leadership team.  

“Workers who have simply been thanked – right, just ‘thank you’ – for their work in the last 30 days during COVID report significantly less stress versus their hardworking peers,” Patti said. When people are stressed out less, trust their co-workers and leaders more, and feel that their contributions are being acknowledged, they are more open to supporting change management initiatives. Right now, both for front-line workers and people who are working from home, it’s important that we give them the tools and support to get there. 

About the Author

Jess Huckins

Jess Huckins is senior content manager, sales enablement at Workhuman. She enjoys investigative journalism and true crime, fantasy football, outdoor cooking, and adventuring in the wilderness with her three dogs.

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