Managing Director & Senior Partner, Leader Business Transformation Suite
This article appears in BCG’s series on the challenges facing companies as they transform. Here, we focus on key elements in the people journey. Other articles also explore the leader and program journeys companies must undertake. More than ever, companies are finding that managing these interdependent journeys in a holistic and fully integrated way is essential to their success in change management.
Powerful and disruptive new forces—such as artificial intelligence and big data—are becoming more prevalent and are challenging the way organizations operate. Amid these developments, companies are increasingly launching change efforts to stay competitive. But all too many change programs don’t deliver the promised value.
Why? Change is complex, and to drive successful change, companies have to orchestrate many different activities—all of which must reinforce one another versus running independently. One key element to change is how an organization communicates with employees during the change journey. In all too many organizations, approaches to communication fail to truly engage employees and bring them along in the journey. As a result, companies leave employees on the sidelines and have difficulty winning their support. Because these sidelined employees are often the very individuals in charge of executing required “new ways of working,” it’s no wonder that so many change efforts fall short.
Although some aspects of the traditional engagement model remain valid and necessary, the model overall has become increasingly ill-suited to today’s workplace. For instance:
At a time when change is constant, organizations can’t afford an engagement model that leaves employees on the sidelines.
Emerging capabilities—real-time digital dialogue, content-based analytics, live collaboration platforms, a mixing of personal and business communication—have set the stage for leaders to more effectively interact with employees and engage them in change efforts. We call this new approach open-source engagement—and it is a key element in change management.
This approach contrasts sharply with traditional engagement models. It’s a multidirectional way to engage and co-create with stakeholders to enable successful change. And it’s characterized by a democratizing process whereby communication content, dialogue, insights, and even decisions related to a change effort can come from anywhere in the organization—constantly, and in real time. BCG has been helping clients in a range of industries build the capabilities needed to introduce this new engagement model.
Open-source engagement (OSE) offers numerous advantages over the traditional engagement model. For one thing, we have seen that when change planning, communication, and co-creation are put in place, then quality, adoption, results, and impact significantly increase. Additionally, by involving employees in co-creation, companies gain strong support from them for the change.
Equally important, this approach to engagement activates a self-reinforcing engagement cycle:
Introducing open-source engagement in an organization takes commitment, planning, and effort. To improve the odds of success, organizations must put in place four key enablers.
Leaders must align on a vision of the role that open-source engagement will play in supporting the change, and they need to ensure that everyone is working toward the same goals. For instance, can this approach foster speedier implementation of a change program, higher adoption of new business processes, or lower employee turnover during the change?
Open-source engagement also requires leaders to commit to demonstrating specific (and sometimes new) behaviors—such as engaging in dialogue with employees about the change, inviting them to share ideas, and being transparent about decision-making. When employees see that leaders care about their ideas, they participate more actively in the change and are more willing to invest extra effort to support it.
Like any other aspect of change management, successful open-source engagement requires a clear strategy and plan. Leaders must agree on several strategic considerations: when and how the approach will be launched to the broader organization, what topics will be promoted, when feedback will be gathered and prioritized, and when the best ideas will be put into action.
✔ Outline what topics will be fostered by leadership and how much control over the narrative you’re willing to give up.
✔ Define when open-source engagement will be introduced to the organization and how long it will be a priority for leaders. (When successful, this approach could become a permanent part of the organization.)
✔ Clarify how open-source engagement will be rolled out, through which communication channels, and which marketing vehicles.
✔ Define how the success of this approach will be measured.
Open-source engagement requires active guidance to ensure that it delivers the intended benefits. Although this doesn’t demand a complex governance process, a mission control team does need to drive the effort and track employee engagement—the ultimate success metric for this approach. Signs of engagement include higher employee participation in important discussions, more change supporters, and greater openness to embracing new ways of working.
People responsible for mission control triage information coming from employees and nudge the appropriate leaders to respond. They analyze data on employees’ reactions about the change, identify concerns, and recommend actions to leaders. What’s more, they reinforce the engagement loop that this approach enables, by suggesting which ideas from employees merit implementation and how best to communicate about the change.
To bring this approach to life, organizations need an open-engagement platform. This includes not only technology such as digital tools but also an organizational culture and environment conducive to this approach. People throughout the organization must feel comfortable sharing information openly—and must have the means to do so. Leaders can help foster the right culture by modeling new behaviors vital to open-source engagement.
For example, they can initiate open dialogue and feedback themselves and invite it from others. They can reward employees who take part in the conversation. And they can make employees feel safe in participating; for instance, by affirming the organization’s interest in having open discussions about change.
✔ Articulate, model, and encourage the behaviors required for open-source engagement to succeed.
✔ Visibly reward people who take part in the effort. A public thank-you note or lunch with a senior leader is low-cost but highly valued by employees.
✔ Introduce a digital platform that gives employees easy access to leaders in real time and that enables multidirectional dialogue.
Not all change programs are well-suited for open-source engagement. For leaders seeking to determine whether this approach is right for a particular change project, we suggest taking the following factors into account:
To support open-source engagement, digital platforms must:
Tuned by BCG, our change management app, is helping clients bring open-source engagement to life. Clients using the app have achieved engagement rates three times higher and have a greater chance of successfully implementing their change programs.
Not all companies are ready for the commitment and transparency that this approach to engagement demands. Before investing in it, we recommend that leaders assess their readiness by answering several questions:
Responding yes to these questions suggests that your organization is ready to open up to employees and gather their feedback to enhance participation in your change program.
The benefits of open-source engagement are hard to overstate. When you give people who will execute decisions a say in shaping them, they’ll be far more likely to embrace and support those decisions. Equally valuable, final decisions made through open-source engagement are informed by input from people close to the front lines of the business. And, those decisions are executed promptly—so they produce results more quickly.
Open-source engagement also keeps paying dividends long after each change program has been completed. How? Deploying this approach helps organizations strengthen the capabilities required to drive ongoing change. As the organization gains experience with driving such change, trust and engagement among employees improve—as does employee retention. What’s more, managers gain deeper insight into employees’ strengths, and they can use that insight to identify and develop future leaders.
Given the advantages this approach offers, we expect that more companies will want to spark discussion about how open-source engagement can help them beat the odds of executing successful change.
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