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Two ways to use 'why' to drive and explain change

During a recent talk I was asked the question, “how in the world did you explain such a drastic change in your benefits program” after telling the story of removing one of my employee’s favorite benefit programs. Although it certainly wasn’t easy to do, the simple answer is by focusing on the word ‘why’, doing so in two very important ways.


#1 - Use 'why' to determine the change

The first way is by using ‘why’ to determine the change in the first place. For anyone who has ever worked with or heard me talk, you’ll know that I always always always start with strategy, and start by asking why - why are we making this change?


This is absolutely critical, as the change needs to be firmly centered around strategy or it’s never going to work - for your business and your people. Let me share two examples to bring this to life:


Lottery benefit - The first example relates to the story I was sharing in the talk, which was when we removed a favorite employee benefit. The benefit was a lottery, where ten employee names were randomly selected each month, receiving anywhere from £1,000 - £100. Sound like fun, it was! The ‘why’ for the change, which was removing the benefit, was that in reviewing all benefits against the newly established reward principles, it was decided that a lottery did not align with any of them. With new principles of fairness, balance and choice to name a few, rewarding luck was not amongst them. So, goodbye to this benefit.

Recognition award - The second example relates to a change made in a client’s recognition program, which began as a monthly award given to ten employees selected from those nominated. When I asked them for their ‘why,’ they explained that it was put in place as a way to encourage employees to recognize one another for the great work they were doing. With the ‘why’ in mind, we changed the program from having a set number of award winners to being open-ended. Thus, if five people each month met the criteria there were five winners, if 20 people met the criteria there were 20 winners, and so on. By making this change it better aligned with their why of encouraging recognition, not having unnecessary constraints in place.


#2 - Use 'why' to communicate and explain the change

The second way is by using ‘why’ to communicate and explain the change. Too often we either withhold the truth or don’t share the whole story, the entire ‘why’ when we communicate change to our employees. By doing this, by not sharing the rationale, we risk them not fully understanding, buying into, and trusting the change.


“Your employees deserve to hear the truth. And if you don’t tell them it, trust me, they’ll create their own version of the truth . .. . which is often worse than the actual truth!”

Going back to my example of removing the lottery benefit, this is exactly what we did. We took them on the journey of creating our reward principles, using them to review our benefits, and the ultimate decision to remove the benefit. By doing this, they understood and bought into the change. In fact, many came up to us afterwards to thank us for our honesty and thorough communications approach, and said that had they been in our shoes they would have made the same decision. Perfect, just what we were aiming for!


Let me end by encouraging you to bring out your ‘why’ in these two ways the next time you develop and deliver change. Use it as your starting point and your focus, and the change will end up being more meaningful, effective and engaging.

 

If you'd like to read more on this topic, here's a blog I wrote explaining how a company communicated change to their employees: https://www.debcohr.com/post/the-hunt-for-the-chocolate-easter-egg

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