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The Role of Employee Listening in Transformational Change

May 21, 2024   ·  

"When people do not have a voice in change that affects them, they will resist even if the change benefits them." 

Richard H. Axelrod 

Transformational change is no longer a one-off event, but a constant part of working life. Most large organisations juggle multiple change programmes simultaneously, and employees are experiencing more high-level changes than ever before. 

Nothing good happens in a business without its people, and this is especially true during times of change. 

However, employees often feel left out of the change process, breeding disengagement and resistance. This can hinder the success of even the best-laid plans. 

A study by Oak Engage found that 37% of employees resist change. Of those, 41% cited a lack of trust in the organisation as the primary reason, while 39% point to lack of awareness around the reasons for change. 

Let's explore how involving employees early in the communication and engagement process is critical to the success of any change programme. 


Why change initiatives tend to fail 

Graph showing the impact of change programmes on employee morale and performance over time.

Often, change-related engagement is treated as a mere formality. The approach focuses more on delivering objectives than it does on how and why we engage with our people. 

Only a small portion of project resources is typically allocated to engagement efforts, meaning we spend more time on the quality of the change solution than on fostering acceptance of the change itself. 

Humans naturally resist change, even when it benefits us. 

Acceptance is influenced by cultural factors, organisational trust, engagement methods, and how people are included in the change journey. Low acceptance can negatively impact morale and performance, decreasing the overall effectiveness of the change. 


The change effectiveness formula 

General Electric developed the Change Acceleration Process (CAP) in the early '90s. They found that many projects with excellent technical solutions failed because they didn't adequately plan for change engagement. They distilled their findings into the Change Effectiveness Equation: 

E = Q x A

Effectiveness = Quality of the solution / strategy x Acceptance of the change. 

This formula shows how, even with an excellent solution, poor employee engagement leads to poor outcomes. 

For example, an 8/10 solution with 2/10 acceptance gives you 8 x 2 = 16. 

Improving the solution alone to 10/10 without addressing engagement only leads to an effectiveness of 20. 

However, putting equal effort into both solution and acceptance leads to a much better outcome: 8 x 8 = 64.


Theoretical change curve 

Change curve model showing the different stages of the emotional journey for employees

The change curve model helps us understand how people respond to change. Traditional change management assumes everyone moves through emotional stages at the same time, pulling people through the process whether they're ready or not. 

This can prolong resistance and negatively impact morale and productivity. 


Reduce the impact of change by listening 

Graph showing what the change curve looks like in a listening organisation vs. in a traditional organisation, measuring the impact on employee morale and performance over time.

Change inevitably involves an emotional journey, but we can work to minimise its negative impacts. 

Organisational actions result in resistance, compliance, or commitment, depending on how you address emotional acceptance. 

Changes that feel 'done to you' lead to resistance, while inclusive approaches foster engagement. 

Meaningful listening makes employees feel included, signalling that they matter and their experiences matter. Consistent communication, listening, and response can smooth the change curve and improve morale and performance. 


See your change curve in real-time with Harkn 

Harkn measures daily sentiment and monitors real-time dialogue, producing the Good Day Ratio (GDR), which shows how many good (and great) days people are experiencing in your organisation for every bad (and really bad) one. 

During times of change, GDR acts as a real-time change curve. Continuous dialogue on Harkn's Wall provides insightful feedback about what's happening in your organisation. 

Monitoring GDR and listening on the Wall allows you to observe and respond to employees' reactions to change in real-time, empowering you to reduce negative impacts and achieve the best possible outcomes. 


Interested in how Harkn can help your organisation navigate transformational change? Talk to our team






ChangeInnovationEmployee engagementLeadershipStrategyEmployee voice

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