When it exists is like a sponge. It pulls in until it fills to capacity.
This is something to consider, leverage and acknowledge for change management. It is not necessarily something to be fed and nurtured.
What is Loyalty in the context of change management?
Loyalty to the cause
This is a connection to the core purpose of the change that creates interest, motivation and action. A technologist may quickly be on board for an IT implementation (or not of course). Someone sitting in HR may jump right on board for a human capital initiative. A senior executive may pencil in more and more free space on their calendar for dialogue and exchange for a program that touches their function.
Loyalty to the company
This is the version we think of when we see the word loyalty tied to work or workplace. It might infer staying power in terms of retention, it might mean atmosphere and culture, it might mean the tenacity with which people stick to goals/strategy/plans. It might even be the level of evangelism from participants extending outside internal operations-social marketing.
Loyalty that is truly strong is ongoing. Loyalty has a distinct time connection and a measure of strength over that time frame. Ideally it is increasing strength-measured differently for each individual and/or stakeholder.
Which brings me to the sponge.
Loyalty has both a pull and a maximum limit. The expectation of loyalty in change management often creates that maximum limit quickly. This is the common pattern of project/change management- shove something in, assume loyalty and get-…wait for it…Resistance.
Thankfully loyalty has a rosy side too. The pull. The more things (our things being change) make sense and connect in some way the smoother and more powerful the pull. Loyalty tends to spread easily once the pull begins. Charismatic leaders can help with the pull- someone has to communicate the “make sense”. The pull tends to produce evangelists who can increase the speed and, at times, the capacity of the pull.
When it is strong loyalty should be acknowledged within the change process. The acknowledgement can be kudos in communications, illustrations of commitment, examples of time saved through dedication and collaboration, etc. This is the right approach for feeding/nurturing/leveraging loyalty.
What does not always makes sense is rewarding loyalty.
Think of the expectations airline miles have created. Think of the backlash about blackout periods. Rewarded loyalty has a scale of expectations that increases quickly which decreases loyalty if not continuously fed.
Loyalty's dark side is group think, retention of the lowest common denominator and potentially reduced innovation. In terms of change management the dark side is models and approaches that make incorrect assumptions or are based on internal best practices. The way we do it, a form of cultural loyalty, may not always be the most efficient or effective (effective adding a human capital component).
Keeping all this in mind, change management can build loyalty by rewarding skill and showing how that skill connects to end states and the health of the change entity. If compensation structures do the same bonuses can be added that tie to change participation.
Kudos always work. They work because they are after the fact and specific. Incentives are the opposite, before and general. They do not work so well because of the expectations they create.
When it comes to loyalty, specifically reward rather than generally encourage.
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