Are you leading a new project at work that could fail? Or perhaps you want to introduce a new initiative and get the support of your employees and fellow leaders?
Lynn Herrick is the chief operating officer of GreatCall. This technology company provides healthcare and safety products for older adults and employs approximately 1,500 people. The company also operates call centers for elderly people living in their homes, who might require help from healthcare professionals.
Herrick trained in law, a profession normally regarded as risk-averse because of its emphasis on policies, procedures and legislation. Although she draws on an analytical background, Herrick describes herself as a responsible “risk-taker.”
In her previous role as head of human resources at GreatCall, Herrick was tasked with reducing employee turnover, a challenge given the nature of call centers. She started by introducing yoga, fitness and other wellness classes at the company.
“If you work in our caring centers, you have the opportunity to take a yoga class or a fitness class on paid company time,” she says.
“You have the ability to go to a class…about mental health issues or meditation or how to deal with timekeeping systems, or how to be a more efficient person.”
Introducing employee wellness classes is relatively easy in a large company like Google or Facebook. However, GreatCall’s employees still had to find a way of answering the phone within ten seconds 90% of the time.
“Today our employee attrition is incredibly low, and we found a way to still answer the phone,” says Herrick. “We have to hire less people and train less people.”
It can take months to determine if an initiative is a good or bad idea, which is something many leaders don’t have patience for. Herrick was able to take responsible risks, because she had the support of her board members.
“It took some courage in the beginning,” she says. “I had a C-level team here that was open to it and willing to try things, willing to give me some room to fail, willing to give me a couple of months to see if a program worked.”
Introducing change in any business presents many challenges. Long-term employees rail against an initiative that changes how they’ve always worked. For example, a leader could ask them to work different hours or to collaborate with new teams.
Similarly, newer employees could leave if the leader of a change initiative overpromises and under-delivers. For example, a hiring manager might offer flexible working hours to a recruit. But later on, when the employee finds out the company frowns on people who finish early, she might decide to leave.
“You don’t overpromise. You recognize the impact on the employee. You provide as much of a road map as possible,” says Herrick. “Let someone feel comfortable about how they may move along with you during the change.”
Herrick brought junior and more experienced employees onboard by focusing on the theme of meaningful work. She drove this home at the corporate office with the company’s leaders and with other employees in the call centers.
“Meaningful work was a theme that was easy to brand, because we all come here every day knowing that what we do makes a difference and knowing that we are improving peoples’ lives, both our employees’ and our customers’,” she says.
A leader communicating the specifics of a change initiative could consider company-wide emails, video briefings and town hall or all-hands meetings. Herrick’s leadership team asks employees to go off-line twice a year for an all-hands meeting. Although the employees can’t always share everything at these off-site meetings, Herrick tries to make employees feel like they’re “part of the story.” This helps employees gain a sense of ownership over the company’s change initiatives.
“Even more importantly, we have employees come up and tell their stories, tell their stories of success at the company, their stories of changing their lives, their stories about customer experiences they’ve had,” she says.