Change is About People

Remember during the presidential campaign when one of the candidates said, “Corporations are people”? He got a really hard time for that. Of course there’s more than one way to read that sentence, and in at least one of the ways…he was absolutely right.

Corporations are made up of people. What happens to the company happens first and foremost to the people in it. If you harm a company, it doesn’t harm the building it’s in. It doesn’t harm the computer systems or the products on the shelves. It harms the people. And if you make a company successful, it’s the people who benefit.

Companies undergoing major change programs know that these are the times that try people’s souls. And just as with any influence on the company, one of the most important things to remember in a change program is that change is about people – not systems, not hardware, not products. People.

I love to tell the story of Burt’s Bees, a company that did this right. When they were poised to make a huge international expansion, CEO John Replogle decided to put his employees’ happiness first. He made a conscious decision not to turn up the pressure any more than absolutely necessary. Instead, he focused on culture, creating an environment that was much more likely to see them safely through. He asked his managers to talk to their teams often about the company’s values. He also held a half-day company-wide workshop on happiness. Not productivity, not efficiency—happiness.

At every step, he fostered positive leadership, which kept his managers and employees engaged and cohesive as they made their successful transition to a global company.

In addition to learning about happiness and reinforcing company values, the employees at Burt’s Bees felt like they were important, like they were the key to the company’s success in this venture. That’s good—because it’s true. And that feeling propelled Burt’s Bees into a very successful expansion.

Engagement and involvement of the people involved in a major change are critical for success. How critical? A PWC study found that nine out of ten of the key barriers to the success of change programs are people-related.

So if that’s the case, why does management usually spend 90 percent of its time in a merger or expansion talking about the impact on systems and hardware instead of the impact on the living, breathing people who actually make up the company?

It’s no wonder 76 percent of private sector employees think change is managed badly in their organizations.

Be the exception. Remember that change impacts people most of all, and that putting your people first isn’t just nice—it’s also the best thing for the company itself.

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