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 Empower Employees to Buy-in to Change by Engaging, Consulting and Comunicating with them

The words engagement, consultation and engagement are often used inter-changeably, but they are quite different.  In the context of a change program, engagement allows people to have direct input into processes for developing the Change Vision and Strategy (usually by participative workshops), consultation allows people to have input into decisions regarding the direction and extent of change before it is finalised (e.g. by peer review of documents or staff  surveys) and  communication is predominantly about providing people with information that will help them adapt to the change.      


Most Change Managers appreciate the need  to engage Critical Stakeholders in the success of the program because, by definition, they can make or break it.  The Critical Stakeholders may include senior managers (Kotter's Guiding Coalition), technical experts, representatives of customers, shareholders, unions  and/or employee groups who will be directly impacted by the change.       

 Engagement in Professional Organisations

Employees of organisations in which large numbers of professionals form the operating core of the organisation e.g. doctors in hospitals, engineers in construction firms or lawyers in large legal firms must be engaged if they are to work effectively.  This is because professionals perform complex work and are required to exercise their discretion over how their work is done.   This means that they have a level of understanding of their work that is not necessarily shared by management.    Professionals are also much more likely to be intrinsically motivated than their counterparts in highly structured simple jobs:   They enjoy their autonomy over their work, the challenge of solving complex problems and ongoing opportunities to learn.

Asking them to implement a change that has been imposed from above is therefore both dangerous and demotivating.   Dangerous because it may prevent them from exercising their discretion when it is most needed and demotivating because it takes away the sources of their motivation and devalues their professionalism. This causes them to resist change.     

The essential first step for introducing change into a professional organisation is therefore to recognise professionals working at any level of the organisation as key stakeholders who must be engaged.  Engagement is  is usually achieved by a cascade of participative workshops led by a skilled facilitator that start at the top and cascade down to the lowest level at which professionals are employed.  Respected experts from other professions may also be present to provide specialist advice, as needed, but all decisions are made collectively by the participants.  As each level is completed participants accept ownership of the change and become natural transformational leaders of the next level of workshops.   Workshops can then be cascaded down the organisation to continue to achieve change by variously engaging more junior managers and their staff, providing opportunities for these managers to lead change and other stakeholders to express their needs, using peer pressure constructively and /or addressing issues raised by individuals. 


Consultation enables staff, customers  and other stakeholders to influence the extent and/or direction of change by enabling them to inform management and others of the impact of thechange on their area of operation and make relevant suggestions about how these should be managed.  Methods used are staff or customer surveys, interviewing critical stakeholders (to clarify what must or must not change) and peer review of strategy or policy documents and procedures produced at various points in the change process.


Organisations in which employees undertake relatively simple tasks over which they have little or no discretion generally rely more on communication to help people through change.  In these organisations, most of the ‘why, what and how’ of change is determined at the strategic level and filtered down to employees via procedures and job descriptions.      Employees (and/or their unions) are consulted but this is more to do with the impact of the change on work conditions or job security rather than the work itself.    However this consultation does provide a more informed and less emotional base for Enterprise Bargaining. Together with training in any new skills or knowledge required it also results in a smoother transition to use of new procedures, standards, etc required by the change.

A typical communication strategy includes transformational leadership by the CEO and Senior Managers and implementation of a communication strategy.    When major organisational change is needed, a new Chief Executive has often been appointed to lead change.  Transformational leaders inspires employees to accept change by creating and sharing a vision of ‘what the organisation is changing to’  More about transformational leadership. 

The Communication strategy both prepares employees for, and helps them adapt to, the change.  It is implemented by creation of a number of communication tools to update staff on progress of the change and raise awareness of services available to help them through it.   These generally include newsletters and intranet articles and speeches delivered by the Chief Executive and other manager’s which enable them lead change.   When change is stressful for staff the plan can also include an anonymous email or phone hotline to ask questions or express their concerns without revealing their identity.   

Transformational Leadership is only successful in professional organisations if the leader is a respected member of their own profession.   They are therefore more likely to be angered, rather than inspired, by a leader who is not from their profession and is seen to be ‘telling them how to do their job’.  

In Summary

. Engagement, consultation and communication are all effective at helping people accept change

. Where staff have highly structured roles and little discretion over how work is done, consultation is usually limited to issues relating to work conditions or job security, while Transformational Leadership inspires employees to accept change

. Professionals will rarely accept change unless they are permitted to influence decisions regarding how their work is done. Workshops are the best means of doing this.


Last Updated on Sunday, 10 July 2011 07:34
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