Innovation investment is at an all-time high as companies reimagine who they are and how they will operate post the pandemic. 78% of CEOs confirm that their business requires reinvention.1 Businesses are evolving their customer experience, identifying new revenue streams, embracing disruptive technologies and transforming their entire workforces in order to respond to the pandemic.

However, the meaning of the word ‘change’ in the business context has changed entirely. Here is how we know it is different today:

Change is BIG. Most of today’s transformation programs are enterprise-wide endeavors. They are not necessarily contained within a function or a geography but impact all parts of the business and its broader ecosystem.  Examples include enterprise digital transformations, cloud migrations or accelerations and customer experience evolutions.

Change is FAST. The lifecycle from ‘defining the need to change’ all the way to ‘change execution and measurement’ has shrunk drastically. Change cycles will only continue to get shorter with organizations building deeper change capabilities and adopting intelligent technologies.  Grocery retailers pioneered this acceleration as they pivoted from traditional store models to online ordering, curbside pickup, and/or at-home delivery in a matter of weeks.

Change is COMPLEX. C-suites are no longer dealing with just one major transformation program at a time. They are embarking on multiple programs that simultaneously impact their processes, ways of working, technology stack and ultimately their employee and customer experiences. Sequencing and harmonizing each of these programs is a priority.

Change is HUMAN. The human side of change has traditionally meant training and communications. It has always been a defining characteristic of successful change programs. The pandemic has redefined the ‘human’ side of change to mean much more. Today it means physical and mental safety and wellness, sponsorship at all levels, real-time understanding of employee sentiments, accelerated learning or talent acquisition and even potential deployment into future roles and teams–all while we are working in a hybrid environment. What people expect from their employers has evolved significantly. 

C-suite’s role in the ‘human’ side of change

Leading these big, fast and complex transformations requires leadership alignment at all levels like never before. The ‘human’ side of change requires understanding the human implications consistently and addressing them proactively. In the past, managing the human side of change was often considered the CHRO’s responsibility. At best, the job was shared by a temporary transformation leader. Today, it is the C-suite’s collective responsibility.

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Getting started on the human side of change

As C-suite executives come together to lead transformation programs, here are six key considerations to keep humans at the center.

  1. Get in flying formation.The dynamic nature of the human side of change requires the entire C-suite to coalesce differently and to work interdependently and co-creatively. It requires each member of the C-suite to take shared accountability for the people outcomes. Open communication channels, frequent touchpoints and a high degree of trust are crucial for success.
  2. Make purpose your anchor. The C-suite must explain how the transformation delivers on the overall purpose of the company. 63% of the global workforce expects that companies will create better products and services that have a positive impact on society and our planet. This sentiment is way more pronounced across millennials with 84% stating they won’t work for a company that doesn’t have a meaningful purpose.
  3. Sponsor targeted enterprise-wide learning. Any transformation will translate into a new set of future capabilities. For example, a digital transformation requires the organization to invest in the right technology but also deepen its digital and data fluency across the entire workforce. Focusing on building deep skills in just the technology function will not create the exponential outcome as will elevating the digital fluency in every single employee. Our research demonstrates that leaders who upskill their people as part of their transformation unlock 3x more value from their transformation programs. CXOs who personally sponsor targeted enterprise-wide learning programs are true visionaries who are leading by example.  
  4. Make culture a key enabler. The C-suite needs to be highly self-aware when it comes to culture. Each transformation brings new ways of working and new targeted behaviors for the workforce. A self-aware C-suite will watch out for cultural barriers and maximize on cultural enablers. They will ensure the new ways of working achieve the transformation goals without eroding the shared values, beliefs and even rituals that define the company.
  5. Broaden the definition of ‘value’. A focus on the human side of change creates a new definition of ‘value’ for the C-suite. In addition to the financial business case, people’s engagement, development and sponsorship should become a part of the new ‘value’ targets. The C-suite must align on these targets for each phase of the transformation and share accountability to deliver on them. Taking a data driven approach to understanding people’s sentiments, their progress against future skill needs, their ways of working and their engagement levels overall will help C-suite executives shape and refine their transformation agenda.
  6. Leave people ‘net better off’. 78% percent of the global workforce is looking to their employer to make them better off across their physical, mental, emotional, relational, employment and financial needs. The C-suite has an essential role in designing and delivering on an employee experience that leaves people ‘net better off’, especially through a complex transformation.

    With the lines between life and work blurring, employee burnout rates escalating, talent competition on the rise and mental health becoming a global priority, the ‘human’ side of change is not a nice to have anymore. It is a business priority that the C-suite needs to stack hands on and deliver on seamlessly.

    1Accenture CXO Pulse Survey: Key Trends and Insights on Recovery and Growth, August 2020.

    This blog was originally published on April 9, 2021, and was updated with new information on April 29, 2021.

    See my blog post about The New Employee ‘Energy Centers’

    See more Workforce insights

    Shulagna Dasgupta

    Managing Director - Talent & Organization / Human Potential

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