If You Lead Your Employees To Water ... Will They Drink?

Research, however, shows that 75% of major change efforts fail to meet the expectations of stakeholders. What can you do to beat the odds?




It's October and most credit unions are working through their strategic sessions in preparation for 2008. How many initiatives are you putting on your employees' plates for next year that will require them to do their work differently – or more efficiently? How much differently?

These strategic initiatives usually fall under several major categories: top line growth, expense control, credit union differentiation, member experience, and compliance/regulatory measures. Some of these initiatives will be simple and easy for employees to embrace, as they maintain the status quo. Others will require some significant planning as they will require employees to behave in very different ways. An example of an initiative requiring complex planning, resulting in major changes in how employees behave with each other and members would be implementing a new sales and service culture.

Research, however, shows that 75% of major change efforts fail to meet the expectations of stakeholders – hence our title: “Can you lead your employees to water…and will they drink?” Author John Kotter, known for his best selling book, Leading Change ,says that there are 8 barriers to effectively implement change efforts.

  • Not establishing a great sense of urgency
  • Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition
  • Lacking a vision
  • Under communicating the vision by a factor of 10
  • Not removing obstacles to the new vision
  • Not systematically planning for, and creating, short-term wins
  • Declaring victory too soon
  • Not anchoring changes in the corporation's culture (HBR, Best of HBR Leading Change: Why Transformational Efforts Fail, John Kotter, Jan. 2007)

Two Basic Elements to Consider with Any New Initiative
<First : How easy will the employees (and members) be able to “digest” the new initiative and embrace the change quickly?
Second : From a communications standpoint, how can the management team communicate effectively to ensure employees are engaged in helping change their behaviors to successfully meet the expectations of the credit union and its members?

The following are some tips on how best to address these two elements:
To forecast how easy it will be for employees to digest and embrace the new initiatives, use these six factors to create a scale to help plan the scope of implementation – as well as have a realistic idea of the time required to be successful:

  • Technical (Does the initiative require emerging IT technology with a steep learning curve and new skills required, or will you use existing technology and established standard?)
  • Operational (Does it require a high start-up effort and long transition or is it a good fit with existing operating methods, using the “same look and feel” as what employees are currently using to do their work?)
  • Legal (Does the initiative have potential legal barriers or not?)
  • Motivation (Is it resource constrained, with limited buy-in, or is there strong visible support?)
  • Organizational (How many functions does it impact – many or one?)
  • Composition (Is the project long in duration or less than six months?)

From a communications standpoint, author William Bridges wrote Managing Transitions , a practical book on “change leadership” that describes how to engage employees around transitioning to new and exciting business initiatives. He describes the importance of every executive and every manager being able to effectively communicate the same answers to the Five Ps :

  • What will be left in the Past ? What parts of the “old way of doing business” will employees no longer need to do? It is “assumed” the employee will stop doing the old behavior – causing employees confusion and uncertainty. So, to “do the right thing,” they will use redundant steps – the old one and the new one.
  • What is the “rational” logical Purpose of the change initiative? This part of the communication process supports educating employees on the business of the credit union and how the change initiative will help the business model.
  • What is the “emotional” Picture of the change initiative? How will employees and members behave? This is an important, but difficult, element in this communication process. How well does your story engage the hearts of your employees so they will bring energy and commitment to the change initiative?
  • What is the clear and measurable Plan to accomplish this? What is the plan to roll out the change? Without a clear plan outlined, employees will find it difficult to engage in your efforts, as they will only “guess” what that plan will be and how it might affect them and their jobs.
  • What Part does each employee play in the implementation of the plan? Employees want to know how the initiative will affect them and their work (even if the change is simple.) They will become much more engaged if they know what is happening in their sphere of influence and resources they control.

Clearly, all credit union leaders need to play a key role in helping articulate the answers to the questions outlined in this article. Using these tips to implement change should cause a higher success rate for your 2008 strategic initiatives – and result in more engaged employees and satisfied members.

For more information on Changing Employee Behavior, please contact Jim Cardwell or Karla Norwood at Cardwell, 800-395-1410. Or visit our Connections Online website: www.connectionsonline.net




Oct. 22, 2007


  • A useful blueprint for implementing all projects, not just change initiatives.