The agriculture industry is evolving at a faster pace than ever. Companies that expect to survive and even thrive through such volatility need employees to understand what is happening and why these evolutions require a change to business. Done right, change management can actually strengthen employee engagement. So, how do you bring your employees along rather than have them digging in their heels or, worse yet, heading for the nearest exit? Below are some fundamental guidelines that Peppercomm has developed in working with ag companies and in other industries that are experiencing similar challenges.
- Make the case for change.
If you are making changes, people will understand if you explain why, even if they don't love the changes. No one wants to be told what to do or even less popular, what's best for them. And people are much more likely to embrace change if they think they are the ones driving it. So, start by arming employees with the facts about what is happening in the industry and company, and the latter's commitment to keeping pace with, and even getting out in front of, change.
- Ask employees for help.
As you begin the process, also let employees know you will be reaching out and asking for their help and opinions and will be keeping them informed throughout the process.
- Put trusted leaders in front of employees often.
Intranets and e-mails are great for news sharing and exchanges, but big issues require face-to-face communication – even if it's via video conferencing. These can and should happen in large groups and small – from town hall meetings to branch visits. Make it possible for people to ask questions and offer ideas. And make sure that your spokespeople are making the case not only based on their positions but also on their ability to build a shared vision.
- Encourage tough questions.
In most companies, the likelihood of questions being asked of an executive is in direct proportion to the size of the audience, so make it easier for people to ask questions. Go ahead and plant a few tough ones among the audience during meetings. And use technology to enable people to ask questions anonymously. While some people might raise their hand to ask a question live, others will be too nervous or worried about standing out. To combat this, consider sending around a survey before the meeting, asking people for specific questions, so they can be answered during the meeting. There are also technologies that allow people to submit questions in real-time. They can text their questions in using smartphones, or via a kiosk. Either way, consider following up the meeting with a survey (short and quick), as well as information on who they can got talk to if they would like to have an in-person discussion.
- Genuinely solicit ideas.
Enlightened leaders know that often employees have the best solutions and ideas for improvement, growth and change. So, make it possible for leadership to gather this information. Surveys, for example, are a great way to gather feedback and measure sentiment. Qualtrics and Survey Monkey are examples of tools that can be used to collect survey information. Qualtrics, for example, has a few products that, depending on company size, could make this whole process easier, and they can incorporate other data streams as well (intranet, website…etc.). Survey Monkey has a free tool that can provide basic survey analysis. If you are using internal engagement platforms, like Yammer or Spark, they sometimes have survey integration tools. You can also use those platforms to make sure every employee has access to the survey link. If you are a large, international company, it can be beneficial to invest in your own survey/engagement platform.
- Distill into feedback and recommendations.
Provide this vital input in digestible, actionable and insightful feedback from employees. For example, Qualtrics has a great dashboard that is easily shareable. However you collect your data, you should consider creating a report for senior management as well as the employees. The one for employees should be visual and use a "you said, "we heard/we're doing structure.
- Support the plan development
Now isn't the time for communications to disappear. The more clearly and compellingly the plan is articulated, the better. So, tell your communications people to weigh in. And as the guardian of the organization's reputation, communications must consider the implications of change on how the company is viewed.
- Share the vision – and that you don't have a crystal ball.
Now that you have shared the case for change and solicited employee input, it's time to let your colleagues know the plan to move ahead. They will be comforted in knowing that you have recognized what is coming and have taken steps – with their input – to be out in front. It's also good to let them know that you don't have all the answers and that decisions that seem right now may not make sense in the future. So today's plan will definitely evolve and that is okay.
- Continue to take the pulse and adjust.
Have measurements in place to monitor understanding and solicit feedback. This can be in the form of short quarterly surveys. Make sure your surveys tie into key business goals. You'll want to see if there are correlations between employee engagement and KPIs, and it helps employees to see why their engagement is so important. When you are setting up your measurement program, make sure you discuss these goals with other members of senior leadership, and secure their buy-in. This way, everyone is invested. Then pay close attention to the feedback that comes in and adjust to meet the needs of your employees and the organization.
- Say thank you.
As simple as it sounds, these two simple words can go a long way when it comes to making employees feel valued and good about the work that they have performed and the shifts that are taking place. Look for plenty of opportunities to say thank you for working for us – and with us.
Ann Barlow (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Partner and President of Peppercomm's West Coast operations, and head of the agency's creative-digital team. She is focused on helping clients in the Ag industry grow through integrated marketing programs.