People First: Empowering Employees During Change Initiatives

Every credit union is affected by change, especially during these times of exponential technological change. Change initiatives have an alarming failure rate. The critical missing piece is largely the ability to take into account how change affects the employees at a credit union. Studies show that nearly 75 percent of all organizational change programs fail because they don’t create the necessary groundswell of support among employees. When credit unions deploy a three-phase organizational change approach, their change initiatives stand a much greater chance for success. These three organizational elements both drive and are affected by change:
  • Processes: business processes and policies that are redesigned for new members or to provide improved service to existing members
  • Technology: Driven by process, technology ensures greater organizational efficiency in implementing change.
  • People: those responsible for developing and implementing new processes and using new technology.
These elements are vital to the three phases of the organizational change management approach: identify change, engage people, and implement change. To have success, people must recognize and buy into the need for change. A credit union can’t change successfully unless its employees understand and support the reasons for creating change. Phase 1: Identify Change  While it may seem obvious, clearly articulating the proposed change in normal, consistent language is the first step for any change initiative. Leaders need to identify and communicate the need for change so that it is understood and supported by people at all organizational levels. Executives need to create a compelling vision of the future and continually communicate it. The vision should take into consideration the change need at every organizational level, so that the day-to-day work experience of the staff is described along with high-level change goals. Phase 2: Engage People The next steps in the process is to engage people in planning the credit union’s response to change. This is the opposite of a top-down rollout strategy in which a change initiative is delivered to the employees who are expected to implement and adopt it. It’s important to give people the opportunity for intellectual, emotional and psychological reactions to a proposed change. This enables them to become accustomed to the idea of change and start planning for potential trouble spots. A personal stake in the proposed change is imperative. Phase 3: Implement change During the final implementation phase, change strategies developed in first two phases are translated into actions for achieving the proposed future organizational state. If the first two stages were effectively addressed, people will be well prepared to participate in the development and implementation of new processes and technology, and the implementation should essentially be a monitoring activity for leaders. However, most credit unions spend the majority of their time in the implementation phase and don’t adequately address their people’s role in change. In such instances, successful change adoption rarely occurs. Prototyping is a critical technique to get change underway incrementally without waiting for a highly detailed, master plan which can potentially stall the change initiative. It also allows flexibility to respond to changing conditions. Prototyping takes into account people’s thinking and activities as new processes and technology are deployed. Since their thoughts and actions are used in developing the change response, it further increases people’s ownership in the change initiative. People first Introducing new processes and technology without the input and buy-in of your employees is failure waiting to happen. Leadership that recognizes the importance of making change a personal commitment for all of its people, not just executives and stakeholders, will be more successful at implementing change. This three-phase approach will help you in creating a receptive environment for positive, lasting change.