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Thriving workplace through human connection

Susanne Axelsson
October 7, 2021
Thriving through human connection

Dr. Patti Fletcher — Forbes contributing writer, award winning CMO and bestselling author, shares some breaking statistics at the Global Frontline Experience Summit 2020. 75% of change management programs fail.

Patti reassures that most of the time this isn’t because people don’t have the right vision, measurement tools or roadmaps in place, but because organizations are trying to change without focusing on the most important thing: individual people.

That’s your staff, frontline teams, employees, humans.

Now here’s a not so bleak statistic - agile organizations (that is organizations with successful change management programs) have a 70% chance of being in the top percentile of organizational health.  So the question is, how do we become an agile organisation? How do we enable change using a human-centered approach?

A good place to start, according to Patti, is with the Prosci ADKAR Model (less confusing than it sounds, don’t worry):

The Prosci ADKAR model is about meeting people where they are, in order to get them where they need to be.

A: Awareness of the need for change

The first stage, as with many business models, is awareness. We need to get people to realise change is a foot. The essential ingredient to making people aware is open communication.

D: Desire to support the change

The second stage is about creating a culture where people have a genuine desire to be part of that change. What’s in it for them? - is a good question to think about when generating desire.

K: Knowledge of how to change

Thirdly, we need to provide knowledge on what the change is, why it’s happening and what it looks like. How can we expect people to change, if they don’t truly understand what that change is, and how it will impact them? Spoiler alert: you can’t.

A: Ability to demonstrate skills & behaviours

Then we need to equip our employees, frontline workers and teams with the necessary skills and behaviours for them to thrive with the change. This is a matter of upscaling, training and modeling new behaviours of what it looks like to live in this new environment.

R: Reinforcement to make the change stick

Finally, and arguably the most important part of the ADKAR model is reinforcement. Patti believes a lack of reinforcement is why that bleak statistic from earlier on is so bleak. We don’t reinforce and reward behaviours that are adapting to change. We don’t say to people “this new way of behaving is awesome!” and instead we reward them for the old behaviours. And so, the change fails.

The ADKAR model is only successful if you foster a human-centered environment where change is recognised and reinforced on an individual level.


“People don’t change when you tell them to. They change when you enable them to.”  

Anyone with kids has experienced this first hand, Patti included. Instead of giving top-down orders of change (”Kids, grab the iPad you’re learning from home now”), we must create a culture where individuals feel they have the awareness, desire, knowledge, skills and reinforcement mechanisms to work towards a collective change (“Kids, you can save lives by learning at home”). The key? Human connection. This is the people side of workplace change.

So how is it that we’re able to create a more human workplace? 2 words, according to Patti — thank you. Recognition has the power to strengthen connections within and across teams dramatically. In fact, workers thanked in the last month at companies that have been through a major change in the last year (AKA every company thanks to COVID) are nearly 2x as likely to trust in their company’s leadership team.

Patti gives a heartwarming example of what recognition looks like and the impact that it can have on organizations and their communities. Baystate Health is a hospital with around 10,000 nurses, doctors and staff. They tend to provide for the most underserved communities in Massachusetts. She says for such a small hospital, they have so much to be proud of, including their designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center for four consecutive years. A designation only 1% of hospitals in the U.S receive. They are also WorkHuman certified, which is essentially a commitment to workplace rights at the individual level.

Baystate Health started an initiative called Code Rocky. Every time a COVID-19 patient left the hospital successfully, they would play the Rocky theme song, and clap the patient out. In one instance captured on video, a fellow recovered nurse was clapped out of the hospital to the famous tune. You have to watch it on YouTube, talk about goosebumps.

“They’re not just nurses. They’re not just staff. They’re not just doctors. They’re human beings. Human beings who are saving their community and saving each other. These folks are incredible”.

How is it that they keep such a positive attitude and have the ability to be resilient despite COVID-18? Because they have high organizational health and agility. In fact, what they found is that nurses who received three or more recognition moments had a turnover rate of seven times less than those who did not. Recognition and human connection are instilled in Baystate Health culture, and their organization thrives because of it.

The people side of workplace change is what makes change management successful. Disregarding human beings as the centre of organizational change is simply a non-starter. To be an agile organization, companies must take an individualistic approach that relies on human recognition, connection and empowering individuals.

Learn more about the Global Frontline Summit.

About the Author

Susanne Axelsson
Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the author and researcher for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.
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