Change Management Helps Sprint Nextel Move Employees Into New Office Strategy
Your company is planning to move into new office space or reconfigure your existing layout. Whether you are downsizing, transitioning to an open plan arrangement, or adapting your space while maintaining the same space allocation, it's going to be a major change. And with change usually comes resistance and fear.
While some occupants will be excited the first time they hear about the change, others will dig in their heels and resist, even if the existing workplace isn't very pleasant. Figuring out how to work with these naysayers is critical.
A formal change management program can help you navigate the pitfalls. Change management is a systematic and proactive technique to communicate and apply intended changes to the workplace, enabling a smooth transition for both the company and employees.
By sharing information and asking for input, you can make strides towards fully aligning the whole team Ñ from senior management down to the trenches. Employees have a vested interest in doing their part to make the workplace transition successful. Productivity losses can be minimized because employees know why they are changing, when they should adopt new behaviors and how to work through any problems. The process also helps to identify and dissipate resistance, and to avoid costly delays brought on by internal discord.
If you think that managing change sounds like a lot of work, consider this: A study conducted by the International Workplace Studies Program at Cornell University indicated greater dollar investments in change management produced better employee satisfaction with new workplaces. In fact, greater investment per employee can more than double the employee commitment to the new workplace strategy.
A New Work Environment
Communications giant Sprint Nextel developed a comprehensive change management program for relocating its workforce into new "Sprint Mobile Zones," which encompass not only new space and furniture standards, but also new technology and altered workplace policies. Each Sprint Mobile Zone uses policies and design criteria outlined in the company's guidelines, but implementation of these elements varies based on individual project constraints such as time, funding or cultural issues. Sprint's goal is to save cost, improve process and increase mobility.
Sprint Mobile Zones can be as simple as having space reassigned from individuals to groups with added Sprint Mobile Zone signage, or as complex as a complete redesign. Sprint's enterprise real estate group piloted a new Sprint Mobile Zone design at Sprint's Overland Park headquarters, transforming three floors of one building. The new Sprint Mobile Zones took old systems furniture and reconfigured it into an open, low-wall environment. New furniture was used to provide casual and formal collaboration areas.
At the end of 2008, Sprint had moved about 5,000 people into Sprint Mobile Zones, with a productivity increase of 30 percent, equating to $4.4 million in annual revenue. As of October 2009, the organization has shed about 1 million square feet of space, with annual real estate savings of $25 million.
Contributing to the successful transition was the implementation of a change management program 120 days before each project's deadline.
The first step in a successful change management plan is mobilization, which involves understanding the project and defining the message: What's the vision? What are the metrics for success? Who is going to be impacted and how? When is it happening? Why are we doing this?
For Sprint, mobilization for each project began with identification of the target group (associates being asked to change) and planning for which portions of the Sprint Mobile Zone kit of parts could be used for a given group.
Next, develop a strategy and change management program that will work for your specific organization. This involves considering the degree of change involved.
A change management plan should be customized based on the timing and scope of the project, as well as number of people affected. Using the same program from a different change or poaching another company's program is risky, particularly without adjustments. Sprint used the same basic change management principles for each project, but modified the message and delivery based on the culture of the target group.
Step three is development of the engagement process, the goal of which is to build employee ownership in the end state of the project. The engagement process requires a holistic and systematic approach. The more involved employees are in developing the solution, the more likely they will enjoy using it. Engagement can take many forms. For most workplace changes, it will need to include several groups, including senior leadership, user groups, real estate and facilities management, information technology, human resources, and consultants/vendors.
Sprint's process involved identification of a sponsor, or senior-level person, to initiate the change and take responsibility for the project's ultimate success. A change agent was assigned to implement the process. Advocates were identified to advance the change, and identify and remedy roadblocks in "selling" the change. Sprint aims for approximately one advocate per 25 associates.
Throughout the engagement process, Sprint offered its associates a number of opportunities to shape the development of their Sprint Mobile Zone. This included:
- Offering an individual decision model for level of mobility.
- Seeking recommendations for issues such as adjacencies, special equipment and storage space.
- Requesting ideas for space design for amenity spaces and project rooms.
- Establishing behavioral protocols and guidelines in the space.
- Developing etiquette and standards regarding noise level, speaker phones and interrupting team members at work.
The next step is to refine the rollout plan. As change is a continuous process, the program's message and implementation may need to be revisited and refined. User feedback and questions during the initial engagement process can result in the need for tweaking or greater detail. The refined strategy generally involves more specific information, such as what to do, where and when.
Pilot Project a Success
Finally, the last step is to implement, measure and adjust. The best way to judge the success of a project is to ask the groups through methods such as post-occupancy evaluations, focus groups and blogs. This feedback is crucial for making needed adjustments in the implementation and for giving people a sense of ownership in the process. Testimonials, particularly from people who initially resisted the change, can be helpful.
For Sprint, the pilot space proved to be successful. It found that of the three floors that were renovated into Sprint Mobile Zones, only two were required to house the population. Mobility was happening at a much higher rate than expected. This enabled Sprint to move another group into the "extra space," bringing additional space savings.
Through post-occupancy evaluation, Sprint discovered its pilot program resulted in happier people in a more densely populated space with smaller, more open workspaces. Surveys showed a significant increase in satisfaction for mobile workers: 72 percent would recommend mobility to their peers. Best of all, 100 percent of employees indicated they preferred their new space over the old workplace and would not go back to the old way.
Without change management, employees will eventually adapt to change, but not as quickly. That delay can mean loss of productivity, lower morale and higher turnover. While it may demand time and resources, the benefits and risk avoidance make change management a valuable element of any workplace move.
Jodi Williams is a workplace consultant with HOK Advance Strategies, based in the firm's Washington, D.C. office.