By: ROSE ALCAMO | Published: MARCH 2018
Once upon a time, in the fictitious world of Mad Men, employees were passive spectators, and did exactly as they were told. Leading Change was never so easy.
Fast forward 50+ years where employee opinions prevail in all business decisions and their engagement is central to Organizational Change success. Under these daunting circumstances, what Leaders wouldn’t be tempted to channel their inner Don Draper, especially if it meant exercising the occasional “Because I Said So” approach to management every so often?
Fear not, for effective Change Leadership is founded on basic relationship management principles, and when carried out respectfully and with trust, is consistently ranked as the #1 predictor of Change Success.
To that end, here are five fundamentals of effective Change Leadership you need to know:
When employees are asked to change, their willingness will be premised, in large part, on how much they trust those that are doing the asking. This is true of all Change – whether it’s coaxing your Kid Brother to try a new breakfast cereal or persuading an entire workforce to change how they do things to divert a competitive threat. In effect, employees are being asked to abandon their comfort zone for an unknown, future state where information about the Change is being sourced from those who need them to change.
Until such time as employees can personally experience the Change (and its impacts), they will be entirely reliant on your trusted word and perceptions of how well you’ve honoured it in the past.
In the midst of Change many questions will emerge: “Why are we doing this?”, “How will it affect me?”, “What aren’t you telling me?” etc.
Change Management theory prefers carefully crafted, well-timed key messages, with strict adherence to prescribed scripts. While advisable for awareness setting and blanket communications, canned sound bites will not resonate with those who expect significant impacts. For these Stakeholders, Leaders are advised to leverage popular, preferably informal, venues that allow for open, 2-way dialogue.
As importantly, Leaders need to address all questions; from those that do not yet have answers, to those that may never be asked. By admitting to what you don’t know as well as what you anticipate others would want to know (but are too afraid to ask), you are demonstrating your empathy as well as genuine concern for Stakeholders’ well-being.
Regarding the communication of bad news, opinions vary. Some argue that delaying bad news is rooted in kindness. Others feel that it’s necessary for risk mitigation (what if your star employees jump ship?)
Barring known risks, I believe it’s better to disclose what you know, when you know it since: the risk of unwanted leaks increases the longer the news is delayed; and once good information and a game plan are available, proactive and constructive discussions are possible.
Not all Leaders are champions of change: some will not be aligned with the grand plan, others will be blatant about their dislike and a fraction will quietly resent it; but all will pledge their support!
Passive resistance is not uncommon to Organizational Change but is more often observed in Stakeholders who have little to no control over the change. When exhibited by the Change Leader, it does pose a conundrum (if not a mild form of schizophrenia), for she/he will profess love for the change professionally while hating it personally.
Before you can effectively lead change, you must authentically endorse it. If not, your Change Leadership efforts will be compromised. To expedite your own acceptance, consider the following:
- The source of your discontent: Is it fear based, a loss of control, the pain of change, or a genuine concern about its feasibility?
- Engage the Executive Sponsor: Chances are you’re not the only Leader with concerns. If so, greater scrutiny of the change or leadership alignment may be warranted.
- If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: Through active participation you’ll be able to voice your concerns and with exposure, you’ll see firsthand how the change is intended to work and the benefits that can be realized.
- Active Participation
Perhaps the most powerful fundamental of Change Leadership needs the least explanation. You know intuitively, if you actively and visibly embrace the change, your team will follow. As you publicly falter with new business tools and processes, you invite staff to learn at their own pace, through trial and error. Most importantly, your hands-on experience with the change will ensure that you are setting realistic and achievable performance goals, which are certain to minimize anxiety in the future state.
At long last, the change initiative has launched; however, your Change Leadership role continues, at least while stabilization is underway. Over this period, you will want to actively monitor adoption and compliance, solicit employee opinions about what’s working (and what’s not), as well as publicly celebrate the contributions of staff and the demonstration of desired behaviours.
Leading change need not be daunting. In fact, in its simplest form, it is no more complicated than the Golden Rule: “do onto others as you would have them do unto you”. Or in the esteemed words of Nike: “Just do it” . . . (and they’ll follow).
Originally written by Rose Alcamo, SPM Group Ltd.