About a year ago, my interest in health and wellness lead me to introduce a Wellness Program to our firm. Inspired by my boss’ encouragement, I was immediately motivated by the prospects of a Wellness Program: I envisioned my colleagues running or cheering each other on at a 5k for charity, sweating it out together in a cycling class, and seeing the smiles on their faces when the firm offered to pay for an elite gym membership. I thought – everyone is going to love this!
I floated ideas to my colleagues to get their feedback and surveyed them on what they envisioned for our wellness program. Most requests centered around food (“We want healthy snacks!”), but beyond that, my colleagues’ wellness wants differed. This shouldn’t have been surprising – we are a diverse group and therefore have diverse wellness goals (if we have any at all).
So, I went down the list of suggestions from my colleagues and began to organize activities geared towards these individual requests. Again unsurprisingly, the activities met with little success. I was discouraged: Why isn’t everyone excited about this? Why doesn’t everyone want to go to a cycling class to sweat buckets in front of their colleagues?
I revisited the idea of the program with my boss and she gave me familiar advice – the same advice we give to leaders who seek to instill organization-wide change: people needed time to get used to the idea and I needed to stop thinking of myself as the harbinger of health and wellness. This change won’t happen overnight and it’s not my job to force people to engage in it. However, it is my job to inform my colleagues about wellness.
From this point, I focused on consistently apprising my colleagues about topics related to health and wellness. I invited our healthcare representative in to talk to us about our health insurance plans and how to make the most out of them, I put articles in the break room about wellness, and started a Slack channel to share ideas. Less frequently, I organized healthy activities in which at least a few colleagues seemed interested. Our biggest win so far has been the delivery of healthy snacks to our office – for an office with previously no snacks (aside from microwave popcorn and soda) this was a widely-welcomed change.
As with any organization-wide change initiative, it is important to frequently and consistently communicate. Without continuous communication, people lose interest or – worse – forget the program even exists. In our organization, it can be difficult to get everyone together for an activity with our travel schedules, and so information sharing has been key to keeping my colleagues across the country engaged in the wellness conversation.
Further, you need to bring others along with the change by appealing to their needs, while remembering that not everyone is going to love everything about it. Our program is still in its infancy, but I have experienced glimmers of hope (so far, no one has complained about the reduction of soda in our firm’s fridge) that remind me that this change – though small – is starting to take root with my colleagues.
Lessons Learned from Launching a Change Initiative
A year after I first envisioned my colleagues crossing the line at a 5k (which has yet to happen – but I still have hope!), here are my five key takeaways in change management:
Get buy-in from senior leadership
With any organization-wide change, you need to have buy-in at the top in order to be successful and present a united, organization-wide front. My boss was supportive of this idea from the beginning so it wasn’t hard to get buy-in on funding some of our initiatives, and he even suggested and set up the contact with our first speaker, a transcendental meditation expert. Further, our boss has a “Do not disturb, I’m meditating” sign for his door, showing us that it’s ok to take a few minutes from your work to dedicate to health and wellness in the office.
Understand your audience
Surveying my colleagues gave me new ideas, helped me to flesh out a vision for our program, and allowed me to achieve a huge win (those healthy snacks).
Don’t expect change to catch on overnight
Although it’s taken a while, wellness-related actions and initiatives are starting to become more expected and supported. Providing a diversity of program offerings helped achieve small wins and build enthusiasm, and ongoing communication and reminders has helped keep it on people’s radars.
Acknowledge and accept: Everything won’t appeal to everyone
This has been my most difficult obstacle, but everyone has different priorities. Maintaining the presence of the program, being resilient in planning activities and fostering a dialogue, and focusing on the individuals who are motivated by the program helped me feel like I was making gains. After all, any program is better than no program.
Ask for help, use your network, and be observant
Ask for another colleague’s help in developing and implementing initiatives. This naturally creates diversity of thought which can be crucial to getting organization-wide buy-in for change (and also creates a mini support group when you’re the only two who show up for a wellness activity).
I’ve found that being in other offices, scrolling through LinkedIn, and spending time with others in my network often resulted in new ideas and ways to continue promoting the initiative. Sharing experiences and learning what others are doing always sparks new ways of thinking about your own program.
I’ve enjoyed the experience of launching this initiative in the firm, but the work isn’t over yet. I’m getting ready to conduct another survey to check back in on my colleagues’ “wellness wants,” and find out what’s working/what’s not working so I can adjust accordingly (an important step in any change initiative).
For me, accepting that not every activity related to my initiative was going to be a success was the hardest part of my first year managing this change. What’s been your biggest obstacle in change management and how did you overcome it?