Rebooting the employee operating system

Phil Morley (Director of Employee Engagement at MerchantCantos), Nick Howard (Partner at Brunswick Group) and Naz Sadri (Employee Engagement Strategist at MerchantCantos) discuss why businesses need a behavioural change plan as we adopt a phased approach in returning to work.

There’s plenty of reporting about the changes we’ll all face as we return to workplaces that are – and can stay – safe. There are likely to be things like health checks, staggered hours, reconfigured workspaces, the use of PPE and so on. Even the little things we take for granted will become more difficult. Want to borrow a colleague’s pen? Afraid not.

And it’s on that last point that we’ll face our biggest challenge. The new world of work will require us to make significant behavioural changes, big and small. They’re not difficult to define or understand. But making them happen is not so easy.

So, there are two important things to bear in mind as you plan your business’s return to work. Most businesses are on top of the operational plan. They’re thinking about a phased return: who needs to be where in the workplace and when and what systems, processes and tools will be needed.

But the operational plan won’t succeed unless it sits alongside a behavioural plan, addressing how employees need to work.

And this is where the critical challenges will be faced because people’s every day and expected experiences that are hard-wired into their behaviours have to significantly change. The ‘employee operating system’ will need a reboot, serious upgrade or even replacing.

The behavioural plan requires a more informed, sustained, and significant effort than the operational plan. You can change all the door handles overnight, and once it’s done, it’s done. Getting people to use those doors differently, each and every time, is a much more challenging task.

It also won’t be a set of gradual, incremental changes. It’s everything, all at once, for everyone. It’ll be different for every country, sector, organisation, department and individual and it’ll mean identifying and ‘pulling’ the change levers that influence and support employee behaviour.

The good news is that these change levers are the same now as they were pre-Covid. Leaders acting as role models. Recognition. Storytelling. And good communication will of course always be a critical part of supporting any change. Just more so.

And many of the core communication principles that worked well and applied pre-Covid to help influence what employees think, feel, and do, are also still applicable. Just more so.

Working together we can support you in developing and translating your operational and behavioural plans into compelling and effective communication campaigns that make change happen – and keep your employees and your business safe and productive.

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