Let’s be honest, most of us do not like change. We’re pretty bad at it. Organizational change upsets our routines. It may threaten to make our hard-earned expertise less important, or even obsolete. Change endangers the influence we might have throughout our formal and informal networks. As a result, we have a natural tendency to resist change. And there’s been plenty of change lately!
An essential executive characteristic is the ability to inspire, communicate, and lead during times of change — from designing new business operations and revising strategic priorities, to adapting to the retirement of a senior leader and introducing new technologies.
As executive coaches, we’ve worked with numerous managers and executives to develop leadership skills. Here are a five important keys to communicating and leading through periods of change.
Leaders must clearly articulate what the change is and what the ramifications are. They need to be able to plainly discuss the opportunities, the challenges, and the expectations of a change. That means you must do your homework ahead of time — lack of preparation may be the most disastrous way to introduce a change. Consider what-if scenarios and spend time preparing for expected reactions, questions, concerns, and criticisms before you introduce the change.
“What’s in it for me?”
Be prepared to answer the first question that everyone one in your organization will be silently asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” If you are unable or unwilling to consider change from the perspectives of your employees, the success of your change will be severely hamstrung.
It’s vitally important to recognize that the answer will be different for different groups of employees because each group has its own particular point of view and its own needs. An AVP will need to hear something different than a front-line worker; someone in finance will need to understand the benefits of a change from a different perspective than someone in sales, or logistics, or IT.
Forget the big “kick-off” event. Interestingly, recent studies suggest that conventional big launch events often backfire. No matter how the grand “unveil” is handled, it catches people by surprise, and people not ready for change will fight it. Sides are chosen quickly and back channel maneuvering begins. It appears that starting small and beginning quietly, without fanfare, is the best way to introduce most change.
Informal networks outperform formal networks
Don’t expect the authority of those at the top of the organizational chart to drive change. Leading change is about inspiring and motivating — it’s also about trust and credibility. Those in formal positions of power can only do so much. You may be able to direct the change, but you will not be able to persuade and engage your team based on your official authority alone.
Informal networks in organizations are the difference makers. One proven approach to leading change is to recruit and engage informal organizational influencers — people whose opinion and perspective others respect, and who are supportive and excited about the change.
Don’t try to silence the conversation. It is important to recognize and accept questions, concerns, and emotions. Remember, most of us are not very good with change. We don’t like uncertainty. We need to work it out in our minds and understand the needs and potential benefits. We also need to vent emotionally if the change frustrates, angers, or scares us.
Engage all your listening skills. You’ll gain better acceptance through genuine empathy. And, if you are willing to listen, you will develop a better understanding of where the friction points are. You also will hear ideas that you can apply to more effectively implement the change you seek.
Leadership to move forward successfully
Change is a reality for all organizations. In fact, it one could argue that change is a fundamental and necessary condition for long-term success. And certainly, as we work to determine what the “the new normal” is, more change is coming.
To learn more about how executive coaching can strengthen your leadership skills and enhance your ability to lead through change, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.