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…During the summer of one of my first HR internships, my HR manager told me a change management story that has stuck with me ever since. She recounted how several years prior, she was the HR Manager for a struggling manufacturing plant with numerous production and quality problems… and if those problems weren’t resolved in short order then the business was in danger of losing a big customer whose departure could mean the facility’s closure. Changes needed to be made in the way employees and managers were held accountable, long standing expectations around hours and work needed to change… and as part of this process a re-organization would need to take place that would mean layoffs. Almost none of the needed change was of the ‘feel-good’ variety, and delivering this message to the workforce in a way that didn’t cause people to dis-engage would be challenging.

Ultimately, after a lot of hand wringing the leadership settled on a novel way to deliver the message that significant changes were required in a way that would both resonate and engage the workforce: For the better part of the week, empty boxes were brought into the primary facility warehouse and stacked along the walls. No one knew why the boxes were being stacked along the walls, and no one knew when it would stop or what it all meant.

^After 4 days, with more than a quarter of empty warehouse space dedicated to the boxes, the Plant Manager shut down all of the lines, scheduling an all-hands meeting in the warehouse. The Plant Manager faced the entirety of the workforce; and the boxes were his back drop as he delivered the message that – unless the facility dramatically changed the way it did business – the boxes behind him represented the monthly volume of product that the facility would lose in business. Losing that amount of business, he said, would potentially place the job’s of everyone standing there that day in jeopardy. He then laid out the general framework of a large scale change management effort that would re-define the way the business operated – from the organizational and decision making structure to its quality controls to the production schedules and beyond.

The workforce responded to the message, embracing the changes the facility needed to make and – so her story goes – the plant was saved. The leadership laid out a difficult vision for the future that the workforce accepted… but to do so they needed to help employees clearly visualize why change was necessary.

…I share the above story after reading a fantastic Aon Hewitt blog post titled “Why Retirement Models are Perfect, While People are Not.” It highlights that 60% of workers will not have enough money saved to retire at 65 (the new normal will be 68), and that 16% of workers won’t even have enough to retire by 75. Hewitt goes on to highlight the many reasons that this is the case despite the median retiree needing to save just 7.3% of their income per year over 40 years to retire at 65.

^There are lots of very good reasons that not everyone is able to have this sort of consistent savings over their lifetime… but for many people in the workforce the primary reason they don’t hit their savings goals is because putting away 7%-8% of one’s income just feels like too much when one is in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s. By the time most workers begin earnestly thinking about saving for retirement… it’s increasingly becoming too late (particularly as employers move away from lifetime annuity based pension plans).

…Re-visiting the lesson of the story I shared above, I think that to really help workers today make smart retirement savings decisions that employers have to help them to really start thinking about the consequences of saving today, and help them visualize what that looks like in the future. Because to have the willpower to make smart savings decisions in the first half of one’s life, I don’t think that giving worker’s access to financial planning tools and expecting them to always make the right decisions is enough. Planning for the future has to be a mission, which requires I won’t power, I will power, and I want power:

^Or maybe an idea like this is too paternalistic (or idealistic)? If so, why? If not, what would a program that helps employees paint a picture of retirement look like?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.