Maintaining an Engaged Workforce During Times of Transformation: Two Key Components

August 17, 2017 | Melanie Hughes, EVP/Chief Human Resource Officer at American Eagle Outfitters | Glint
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Most — possibly even all — industries are likely to undergo some type of transformation within the next few years, whether because of new technologies, industry consolidation, or other competitive pressures. Theses changes will affect consumers, organizations, and even employees. In the midst of an industry-wide disruption, how can HR leaders of organizations retain employees and keep them motivated? Keep them engaged.

Nearly all business sectors are experiencing a transformation to some degree - retail is no exception. A significant transition is underway as consumers are presented with more options and buying habits shift from stores to e-commerce. These channel shifts and pressures affect the future of retail, as well as individual organizations within the industry. At American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), this period of change has had an impact not only on the way we do business, but also on the overall culture and mindset within the company.

Align Employees With a Shared Sense of Purpose

In order to adapt to the changing industry effectively, keeping employees at all levels engaged, has been a secret weapon for us. For AEO, there are three distinct populations of associates: retail stores, distribution centers, and corporate offices. These three populations all feel differently about the transformation the retail industry is undergoing. For example, the technology teams are very excited about the digital transformation that retail is experiencing, while those who work in our brick-and-mortar stores see this as a threat.

To respond to these differences in our employee groups, we’ve found it’s important to unify the employees behind one mission. This helps them understand why they each matter, no matter what they do, and gives them a framework for understanding their contributions to the future goals of the organization.

Enlist Managers to Help Guide Employees Through Change

Senior leaders and managers play an important role during these times. Effective communication between managers and their associates help their team members understand the team’s role in the larger mission, as well as provide them with the chance to contribute to it. They help keep their teams focused on the task at hand and truly shape path to transformation for their teams. With the help of strong leadership, engaged employees will become early adopters of the organization's new mission and goals and help influence their fellow associates to come along on the transformation journey with the company.

Understand That Change Isn’t for Everyone

Periods of transformation can not only help you pinpoint which employees are engaged and willing adopt a future vision, but also identify those who are resistant to change. Some disengaged employees may not want to come along on this journey. It is important address their concerns and fears, communicate the new mission effectively. Some will be join the movement and other may not. It may be necessary for those who are not willing to embrace the change to move on.

Whether it be a new CEO or an industry-wide transformation, times of organizational change can disrupt the company’s culture and mindset. However, with the help of strong leaders and a clear mission, engaged employees strengthen organizational success through transition periods.

Interested in learning more about utilizing employee engagement during times of transformation? Listen in on Tuesday, August 22 as I discusses how American Eagle is optimizing employee engagement and performance during a period of transformation in the retail industry - turning engagement into the AEO’s secret weapon.