Achieving successful change is one of the biggest problems that modern organisations face. There is just so much change taking place in organisations – a strategic vision with numerous initiatives across the organisation often resulting in one change after another, or many at the same time, without adequate consideration to individuals and teams.
As I undertake a new project, I am often faced with warnings of ‘change fatigue’ and the need for my changes to be implemented successfully by a given date. So why should stakeholders listen to me when they have other priorities to deal with? In addition, leaders are put under more and more pressure to make things happen fast with a ‘Just Do It’ attitude from the top.
Change management research has demonstrated time after time that organisational change initiatives fail more often than they succeed, despite the resources put into creating change management processes.
What often makes the difference is effective leadership, essential for successful change. But, what makes an effective leader and what skills do they need?
As bloggers, Ruth and I have often discussed the need for effective communication which needs to be ongoing and consistent. Unsuccessful leaders tend to focus on the “what” behind the change. Successful leaders communicate the “what” and the “WHY.” Leaders who explained the purpose of the change and connect it to the organisation’s values, business processes and procedures or explain the benefits are able to create stronger buy-in and urgency for the change. It is important that everyone gets the same messages adapted for each audience group. See our previous blogs.
The leader’s role is to ensure messages are sent, understood and actioned, and cascaded to all affected stakeholder groups. This of course can be facilitated by a Change Manager. I often work with business leaders on the messages, the content and timing so that we are all in agreement with the communication strategy, who would be doing what and who was responsible for communicating. We also needed to be aware of other change initiatives underway within the organisation to ensure any confusion was avoided at all times.
Bringing people together to plan and execute change is critical. Successful leaders work across boundaries, encourage employees to break out of their silos, and refuse to tolerate unhealthy competition. They also include employees in decision-making early on, strengthening their commitment to change. Unsuccessful change leaders fail to engage employees early enough and often enough in the change process.
I am a strong advocate of Change Networks, establishing a team of trainers and change agents responsible for cascading information and training team members. This is only possible with the agreement from leadership as they would have to reinforce communications, reinforce the need for training and a commitment from each member of the Change Network, preferably formally recognised.
Successful leaders make sure their own beliefs and behaviours support the changes too, often having to lead by example. Change is difficult, but leaders who negotiate it successfully are resilient and persistent, and willing to step outside their comfort zone. They also devote more of their own time to the change effort and focus on the big picture. Unsuccessful leaders fail to adapt to challenges, express negativity, and are impatient with a lack of immediate results.
In my experience, where I have had a strong leader, someone who has been committed, change has been implemented successfully with all stakeholders prepared for the upcoming changes to processes and procedures and to roles and responsibilities. This ensured performance was not adversely affected.
Translating strategy into execution is one of the most important things leaders can do. Successful change leaders focus on getting key people into key positions (or removing them, in some cases). They also break big projects down into small wins to get ‘quick wins’ and build momentum. They also utilise or develop metrics and monitoring systems to measure progress. Unsuccessful change leaders sometimes micromanage, focus on detail, and fail to consider the bigger picture.
Leading People through Change
While formal change processes might be well understood, too many leaders neglect the all-important human side of change. The most effective leaders devote considerable effort to engaging everyone involved in the change. Remember that people need time to adapt to change — no matter how fast-moving the change initiative. Effective leaders exhibit these 3 crucial qualities of leading people:
Supportive – Successful change projects are characterised by leaders removing barriers to employee success. These include personal barriers such as wounded egos and a sense of loss, as well as professional barriers such as the time and resources necessary to carry out a change plan. Leaders of unsuccessful change focus exclusively on results, so employees don’t get the support they need for the change.
In navigating change, resiliency is required because it helps people handle change’s inherent pressure, uncertainty, and setbacks. Leaders need to build their own reserves and resiliency, in support of their mental and physical health which then supports others, guiding them to face change in healthy and sustainable ways.
Influence – Influence is about gaining not only compliance but also the commitment necessary to drive change. It is also about mapping out the critical change agents and defining what “buy-in” looks like from the perspective of each stakeholder that will lead to a successful outcome. Effective leaders identify key stakeholders — including board members, clients, and others — and communicate their vision of successful change to them. Unsuccessful leaders are more likely to avoid certain stakeholders rather than try to influence them.
Learn – Finally, successful change leaders never assume they have all the answers. They ask lots of questions and gather formal and informal feedback. The input and feedback allow them to make continual adjustments during the change path. In the case of unsuccessful changes, leaders don’t ask as many questions or gather accurate information, which leave them without the knowledge they need to make appropriate adjustments along the way.
The role of a leader in change is critical for success. They need to have lots of skills in dealing with people across all stakeholder groups. When change is implemented successfully, teams and individuals are happier in the work and are more trustful of leadership, ready to take on more change as it happens.
We offer a number of course on Change Management which includes the role of leadership. If you want to know more, or need some help to manage change and steer leaders in the right direction, feel free to contact us.
8th June 2020