Why Employees Should Vote For Organizational Change

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree September 27, 2017

According to various studies 70% of all organizational transformations fail. While the methodology of such studies is somewhat doubtful it’s clear that successfully transforming an organization is tough. It’s also what we continuously learn from the transformation stories of Bucket List companies. The stories are highly inspirational, but the changes never come easy.

A McKinsey survey found that employee buy-in is crucial for successful organizational transformation. Sadly, few organizations actually involve employees in making the change to a better workplace.

Forced change

Many organizations aspire to continuously improve. Commonly, initiatives originate at the top and are then cascaded downwards. For employees, this feels like an imposition. Not only did they not initiate the change, they had no voice in its design.

We can complain about the 70% of change initiatives that fail, but this can hardly be a surprise.

That 70% of all change initiatives fail should not then be a surprise. If we cannot be bothered to consult those whose support is crucial, why should we expect success?

Vote for change

Frustration

Three months ago we flew to Bilbao in Spain to learn about the K2K Emocionando. A crucial step in their progressive approach is the involvement of employees from the beginning. Here’s how they do it:

Before starting any change initiative they shut down the client organization for 2 days. In this time, employees get the opportunity to visit companies that have already made a similar transformation.

This inspirational trip is done on purpose without the presence of the consultants of K2K Emocionando. They believe it’s important for the employees to talk to the other company’s employees without them being there. They do this to ensure employees are able to receive open and honest stories from their counterparts.

After these 2 days, it’s time for the employees to show their commitment. During a general assembly, all employees get the chance to vote (anonymously!) for the proposed change. It’s just as simple as it is beautiful: employees can vote either yes or no. At this stage the employees are holding all the cards.

K2K gathers and counts the votes. They will only start an initiative if they have decisive backing from employees. And they are really serious about this! They will only start if more than 80% of employees vote yes.

Don’t force change, inspire change

One company we visited in the Basque Country was Lancor, an elevator engine manufacturer. We learned first-hand how employees experienced the voting process. They described it as ‘exciting’—something that made them feel they were in charge of their own destiny.

The process forced them to educate themselves about what meant to be in a more open and flat organization, and how they (collectively and personally) might benefit from it. They realized it wouldn’t be easy, but that it could worthwhile and exciting.

When it was time to vote, a staggering 97% of employees voted yes. The beauty for Lancor? There was no need to force change upon anyone. They were already invested in the process because they decided to do it themselves!

The result? Employee engagement skyrocketed and revenues increased from €5 million to €30 million within just a few years.

This approach is not just radical; it’s also proven. K2K have now supported ~50 companies through change. Typical results include increases in productivity, profitability, and salaries, along with decreases in absenteeism and accidents. Check out the entire story here.

Rebel approach

Gather

We were so inspired by K2K’s voting process that we now use it in our own consulting work. So, before we even start an assignment, we now let employees decide if they want to participate. How? We simply let them vote—just as K2K does. We are convinced there is no point in starting a transformation without the support of those who actually have to execute it.

An example: We recently asked employees of a client to vote on whether or not they wanted to experiment with new ways of working. We followed three (what we believe to be) crucial steps:

  • First we gave a high-speed, interactive 2-hour presentation in which we shared stories and best practices of the most inspiring organizations we’ve visited. We showed them what was possible, and we let them imagine their ideal future workplace.
  • Second, we shared ideas on how to build a change movement. We believe that (while leadership should be on board) employees need to be in charge of their own initiatives. We also recommended short cycles of experimentation rather than multi-year change programs.
  • Third, we asked staff to vote (anonymously) on whether or not they wanted to participate in conducting experiments—with the aim of making their workplace more engaging.

This process put the execution of the entire project in the employees’ hands. If they voted NO, the project wouldn’t start (and we would stop working with this client). But if a critical mass voted YES, we would start, together, by designing experiments to improve their way of working.

The result? 76% voted YES. The project is a go!

Inspired change rather than forced change

In our future client work it will surely happen that the employees will vote NO. But we’re okay with that. Either we did a poor job convincing them to participate, or the willingness to change is simply not there. For us, either is a good reason not to attempt transformation at that moment in time.

We don't believe in forced organizational change. That's why we let employees vote for change.

This will inevitably lead to us working with fewer clients. But it is our belief that this will mean more successful outcomes. And it will be way more fun too! Which leaves us no choice: As Corporate Rebels is all about making work more fun, we should clearly put our money where our mouth is.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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