Four ways to make employees own organisational change

21 January 2020 5 min. read

Amid a disruptive environment, many Australian organisations are going through significant change and transformation. According to Anthony Mitchell, co-founder and chief potential officer of Bendelta, for change to be successful and sustainable, it is important to hand the reigns to employees.

Change is the only constant for organisations operating in the cyber-physical age. As a leader, you play a vital role in managing the disruption that can result from this but it’s your employees who are fundamental to ensuring that change within your organisation is successful and sustainable. 

How do you engage your people to think like owners, and run with the design and implementation of change and new ways of working? Fostering an ownership mentality is an essential first step, and will ensure your team feels invested enough to voluntarily contribute to and drive change in the organisation.

Make employees own organisational change

Here are four ways to inspire an ownership mentality:

1. A defined state of idealism

Allow your employees the time and space to dream about what is possible for the organisation, and identify the gap between their current and ideal future state. This clarity alone can be motivating for employee ownership – people are more likely to devote themselves to a change process if they can define, and are invested in, the outcome. Uncover these insights through multiple channels, such as silent brainstorms, online design hackathons and surveys or focus groups, to maximise input, harness cross-organisation and cross-role collaboration, and generate excitement. 

Once the future state has been decided, communicate this clearly to the whole of the organisation. Invite and encourage your people to lead you there. 

2. Intrinsic motivation for change

Know who to mobilise in taking ownership for different aspects of the changes you want to make, by understanding what motivates them. For example, those who want to prioritise work-life balance but consistently work overtime are likely candidates for trialling solutions to address this issue. Similarly, an employee who values efficiency but notices that tasks take longer than necessary might be motivated to evaluate and reinvent related processes.

Understand your team’s interests, motivators and values. Considered alongside your organisation’s purpose, help them build their case for meaningful change. A sense of purpose is a powerful motivator, so it is important that your people understand how any given shift can contribute to something bigger. 

3. Invitation and permission

Within your organisation lies a mountain of potential for creativity and innovation. How often do you truly tap into that potential? Encourage your team at all levels to think outside of the box, to suggest changes and new ways of working. Communicating and encouraging this kind of proactivity is the first step. Create an environment that fosters new thinking, and hire new people that perpetuate this innovative and courageous culture. 

“As a leader, change starts with you, but to really create an impactful shift, hand the reigns to your employees.”
– Anthony Mitchell, Bendelta

Does your culture also support ownership? For example, is there a culture of holding oneself and others accountable for actions and commitments, or do employees assume that leaders are ultimately accountable and therefore shy away from responsibility?

Give your team power to determine how an outcome will be fulfilled. Introduce a clear and simple process for ideas to be raised, evaluated and refined, and make sure you build in some time for this kind of thinking to take place. For example, Google is well known for its 20 per cent rule, where employees are encouraged and provided with the means to spend around 20 per cent of their time on side projects. This is how Gmail was created. 

4. Reciprocity

The phrase “give as good as you get” is a golden principle for leaders, particularly when you wish to see people owning change initiatives. Leaders and organisations who go above and beyond for their people are more likely to see this reciprocated in the efforts and commitment of their employees. 

Likewise, an organisation that is seen to value employee contribution is a beacon for employees to continue making those contributions. For an employee to take ownership over change, or an element of change, leaders need to provide autonomy, trust and resources to both enable and support involvement and drive. Some ways you can achieve this include:

  • Accounting for innovation and change in team KPIs. This will minimise the risk of individuals feeling they are sacrificing their job performance to pursue an initiative that might have real positive impact for your organisation.
  • Offer reward or recognition for employee contribution to change ideas or actions.
  • Take the time to listen (e.g. a monthly or quarterly forum with no restrictions on seniority or role).
  • Evaluate the resources (including time, human capital and technology) available to team members.

As a leader, change starts with you, but to really create an impactful shift, hand the reigns to your employees. It is your people who will ultimately see these changes through to success.