Actively engaging frontline staff is key for successful transformation

01 March 2017 5 min. read

Actively engaging line managers and frontline staff are key parts of the wider organisational transformation puzzle, a new report finds. Keeping frontline staff in the loop about the current situation, as well as providing clear communication about transformation objectives, among others, are paramount to winning their engagement.

Organisational transformations processes contain a host of potential pitfalls that may impede change or transitions, often in a time in which businesses are already under stress. Transformations have a tendency to not produce results as desired, with poorly planned and executed transformations potentially leaving disengaged staff, lower productivity and resentment in their place.

In a new report from McKinsey & Company, titled ‘The people power of transformations’, the firm surveys a range of organisations to identify some of the features that set successful transformation efforts out from the rest of the pack. The surveyed involved nearly 1,500 participants whose company has undergone one or more transformations in the past five years. Respondents work across regions, industries, company sizes, functional specialties, and tenures.

Employee engagement at organisations transforming

The research found that for a transformation to be successful, the whole business needs to be engaged in the transformation process. Of the respondents involved in successful transformation, almost every category of employee rank was found to be more engaged than those at all other organisations. At C-suite level, for instance, the research notes 94% of CEOs and senior leaders are engaged at successful transformations, compared to 83% at all other organisations. Chief human-resource office involvement levels were also found to be higher, at 67% for successful transformation organisations and 54% for all others.

While considerable differences were too noted in terms of the involvement of transformation offices and officers, active engagement of the lowest levels in an organisation, line managers and frontline employees, is revealed to be particularly important. Line managers for instance, were seen to be visibly engaged at 82% of organisations where there is a successful transformation and 57% at all other organisations. Frontline employees were found to be visibly engaged at 73% of organisations that successful transformed compared to 46% at all others.

CEOs involved in transformation efforts

CEO-buyin to the transformation process remains strong, reflecting the understanding that C-suite involvement in ushering through a transformation remains a key pillar for the success of the transformation. In total, 63% of respondents say that their CEO was ‘very engaged’ in their most recent transformation, while 22% say that they were ‘somewhat engaged’.

Respondents also noted that their CEOs played a number of key roles throughout the transformation process, 63% said that they ‘strongly agree’ that their ‘CEO is a visible advocate of transformation’, while 59% said that they ‘strongly agree’ that their CEO ‘communicates compelling change stories to the organisation’, while 53% of respondents ‘strongly agree’, and 24% ‘somewhat agree’, that their ‘CEO communicates connection between transformation objectives and overall performance goals’.

Companies with successful transformations communicate with and engage the front line

Organisations that are successful in their transformation efforts tend to engage their lowest level staff. To better understand how this is achieved, the firm asked respondents about the actions they have taken to engage frontline employees in transformations.

Clear communication was found to be one of the key conditions for successful transformations as opposed to unsuccessful transformations. 79% of respondents at organisations that successfully transformed said that their organisation communicated clearly on the need for transformation to frontline staff, compared to 42% of respondents at failed transformation efforts. A clear set of transformation objectives was noted at 79% of organisations where transformation was reported as successful and at 36% of organisations at which it was unsuccessful.

The importance of line managers is also not to be underestimated in the transformation process, the research found that their ‘visible engagement and/or commitment to transformation’ was evident at 68% of organisations that successfully transformed and at just 29% where transformation was reported as unsuccessful.

Frontline employees differ from others in their views on how to engages them in transformations

The research also sought to identify what frontline employees see as the most important ways to engage them in transformations. At companies with successful transformations, clear communication on transformation objectives is shown to be the most effective, at 42% compared to all other respondents. The visibility of CEO engagement was slightly less effective at companies with successful transformations for frontline staff, than at all others, at 38% and 46% respectively.

Regular access to information on the transformation progression was, however, noted as being considerably more effective at engaging frontline employees than at all other organisations, at 30% and 16% respectively.

Successful transformations more likely to move senior people around

The research also explored the HR practices, regarding reorganisation and redundancies, observed at organisations that reported a successful transformation compared to respondents observing an unsuccessful transformation. The conclusion is that successful organisations are slightly less likely to keep senior leaders in the same role, at 50% and 53% respectively, however they are more likely to move them around the organisation, at 23% and 16% respectively, and correspondingly less likely to have them move on, at 15% and 25% respectively. Successful organisations were found to be slightly more active in acquiring new talent as part of the transformation, at 12% and 6% respectively.