The Power of the Employee Voice in Successful Business Transformation

Successful business transformation initiatives can be difficult to manage, especially when employees aren’t aligned with leadership. The best way to close that stakeholder gap is by empowering the employee voice.

Anyone well-versed in contemporary discourse around the future of work will likely be familiar with several recurrent topics: The “new normal.” The “Great Resignation.” Hybrid workplaces. Taken in isolation, each of these shifts reflects how the pandemic drove employees and employers alike to adapt on the fly, but when taken together they point to one overarching solution. Namely, the need for proactive business transformation and change at an organisational level, driven by the shared inputs of the entire company. 

As we begin to move past the events of the last two years, the major impacts are steadily coming into focus. Most notably, businesses have doubled down on a pre-pandemic trend toward prioritising employee experience, a change precipitated by the increased need for support during the pandemic, and the job mobility afforded to employees by remote working options. But that doesn’t paint the entire picture. In fact, according to data from NTT, despite 84% of organisations believing employees prefer remote working, only 30% of employees would actually prefer to work from home full time. That gap between stakeholders is just as significant as the gap between strategy and execution. 

If we want to enact successful business transformation and change, we need to close the gap between what we think employees want, and what they’re actually asking for. That’s the power of the employee voice: to bridge the stakeholder gap.

“Involving employees in the change process is critical to ensure its success,” says Dr. George Margrove, senior principal psychologist at Workday Peakon Employee Voice. “Otherwise change is something that is ‘done’ to employees, instead of for them, or involving them.”

In this blog, we’ll define business transformation and change, before further exploring how amplifying the employee voice across your business will enhance your successes and reduce the opportunity for failure.

According to McKinsey & Company, 70% of transformation programmes fail to achieve their goals.

What Is Business Transformation and Change?

Given the increased focus placed on transformation and change due to the aforementioned shifts in the world of work, it’s easy to think of it in purely contemporary terms. However, business transformation and change have long been a cornerstone of successful company strategy, ensuring that agile businesses can adapt and evolve beyond internal roadblocks and external pressures. 

While the terms are often used interchangeably, at Workday we define each as follows:

  • Transformation: A preplanned shift within your organisation, typically with a specific focus, such as digital or cultural, and the potential for a wide, foreseeable impact on business performance. 

  • Change: An unplanned shift as a result of broader, ongoing changes, either within the market or the business itself; it is usually slower and longer term with a more limited impact.

Companies have always faced changing tides, whether based on technological developments, market conditions, competition, new legislation, or social, demographic, or cultural shifts. While new areas of focus come into view each year—such as belonging and diversity or the concerns about employee wellbeing raised by the pandemic—change is a natural part of any company’s life cycle. What sets a successful business apart from its competitors is the way it adapts to that change, and how it develops its own business transformation strategy.

Why Employee Feedback Is Essential for Business Transformation

According to McKinsey & Company, 70% of transformation programmes fail to achieve their goals. The main motivating factors behind that failure? Employee resistance and lack of management support. With the proper lines of communication to bridge the stakeholder gap, that resistance readily dissolves. 

The root cause of resistance to change isn’t the transformation itself—it’s the lack of investment many employees have in those decisions. Employers who empower employees to shape wider business changes resultantly gain their buy-in, creating uplift in overall employee engagement where it previously would have slipped. McKinsey & Company further found that three-quarters of the respondents who broke the process into smaller initiatives, and whose transformations were simultaneously “extremely successful,” said that staff members were entirely or very able to participate in shaping the initiative themselves.

Making sure your transformation goals are understood across the entire business requires more than a blog announcement or an email rollout. Two-way communication creates room for constructive conversations and removes the potential disconnect of top-down planning methods. According to a BCG study carried out on almost 1,000 global businesses, the key enablers for organisations in the top quartile for transformation success consistently involved communication, including regular in-person meetings, leadership coaching programmes, and dedicated tools for alignment, including software applications or sophisticated real-time tracking methods. 

Not only does employee feedback play an important role in the initial planning stage but also as a direct means of course correction. Using active listening technology, businesses can get real-time insights into how employees feel about the progress being made and any areas for potential improvement, closing the stakeholder gap. This valuable data will then further play a role in preempting potential pain points in future transformation projects. 

Measuring Employee Engagement in Business Transformation Programmes

Our global survey of 1,150 senior business executives—268 of whom were human resources (HR) leaders—found that 64% of HR leaders are either confident or somewhat confident in their teams’ ability to accelerate transformation—and, by extension, enable business transformation. However, 43% weren’t confident in their teams’ ability to elevate human performance with technology. Empowering the employee voice requires a dedicated employee engagement solution. 

Our transformation and change question set, the latest update for Workday Peakon Employee Voice, enables you to proactively gather real-time insights and generate data-driven action recommendations for managers. The success of those actions can then, in turn, be measured and monitored, enabling managers to map the impact each action has on employee sentiment toward the transformation project as a whole.

At the core of that new transformation and change set is one outcome question: “Organisational transformation and change is managed well at this organisation.” By giving employees a chance to respond to that statement on a scale of zero to 10, as well as providing confidential comments where appropriate, you gain their investment. That question, in turn, acts as an umbrella for eight motivational workplace drivers covered by four categories:

  • Change communication: How are employees kept informed on status and aims?
  • Involvement in change: What is the impact of change on employees’ roles and their voice in change?
  • Planning and resources: Have risks been taken into consideration, and what supporting resources have been allotted?
  • Belief in change value: What is the consensus on leaders’ decision-making and the benefits of change?

Internal benchmarks will then indicate which areas of an organisation require more support, employee input, or communication around change to close the stakeholder gap. Not only that, but over time you’ll be able to measure your company’s progress against external benchmarks to enable comparisons of how different industries, regions, and business types manage change in their organisations. 

By asking these questions, and incorporating the resultant responses into your business transformation process and plans, your transformation programme will have stronger internal support, a more seamless implementation, and a higher chance of successfully embedding those changes, leading to more sustainable organisational transformation. That’s the power of the employee voice.

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