5 Behaviours of Leaders Who Embrace Change

July 7, 2021 by  

Change-agile leaders demonstrate five integrated behaviours that, together, create a competitive advantage for the organization.

They do the following:

1. Share a compelling, clear purpose: Purpose is the guardrail for actions. Change agility requires an answer to the question “Why?” so that people can fight their natural instinct to resist change. The answer needs to tap into what is meaningful and important, providing an irresistible invitation to come along. If you can’t articulate a clear purpose behind the changes being made, it is unlikely that your employees will be able to implement them.

2. Look ahead and see opportunity: Most leaders view this as the role of senior executives. To infuse change agility into your culture, mid- and front-line leaders who are closest to the markets, customers, and daily operations need to be encouraged and incentified to see opportunities in what they do every day. They need to look beyond this month or this year to identify trends and take action. History is littered with market leaders who didn’t see the opportunities ahead or take action on them.

To build this behaviour into the organization, leaders should:
• Make opportunity-seeking part of the regular conversation. Simply asking questions like “What are our customers talking about? What do you think they will want a year or two from now? What new trends do you think will impact us?” sends the message that looking ahead is important.
• Provide space to experiment. When a potential opportunity is identified, allow individuals or groups to experiment with ways to take advantage of it. Minimize the need for multiple layers of sign-off as it makes the culture too risk-averse and squelches momentum.
• Advertise successes. Nothing breeds success like success. Tell the stories at company events and recognize middle and front-line leaders who are looking ahead and identifying opportunities. Show that the status quo is not enough anymore.

3. Seek out what is not working: The old adage says that bad news doesn’t travel up. During the integration of an acquisition or even in the internal merger of business units, there will be bad news that the organization needs to learn from. But for real learning to occur, people need to feel psychologically safe to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Consider this example:
Derek was leading the integration of several internal units into a merged organization. This integration created a new team of direct reports for him. Over the course of the integration, he worked on creating psychological safety for his team to discuss the challenges of working together and of the integration overall. They used a trust framework to openly talk about what they were doing to build and break down trust with each other. Individuals discussed what they brought to the team and what they needed from their fellow team members. They did pulse checks to assess their alignment and where there was work to do. They had difficult conversations. This type of open conversation and psychological safety cascaded through the new 250-person organization. It culminated in a two-day meeting for the entire organization that included open conversations about what was working well and what opportunities and challenges this new organization needed to address for its clients. The meeting also included a read-out of the employee engagement survey scores that, in the midst of the turbulence of integration, were among the highest in the company’s history.

4. Promote calculated risk-taking and experimentation: Robert Kennedy, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, said, “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Too often, our traditional organizations’ first response to a risk is to ask, “Why?” Change agility requires leaders to ask “why not?” and to establish opportunities for pilots, prototypes, and experimentation. Experimentation is an integral part of R&D. While an overall strategy informs the researchers’ focus, any R&D scientist will tell you that there are sometimes dozens of experiments that don’t get results and that, without the failures, they couldn’t find the successes.

5. Look for boundary-spanning partnerships: As work becomes more complex, it takes teams and cross-boundary collaborations to build products, attract customers, and achieve results. Change-agile leaders and organizations are replacing functional silos with formal and informal organizations that allow for the rapid flow of information and decision-making around a product, customer, or region. For example, Maureen is a mid-level learning and development leader at a global tech company that is growing rapidly through acquisition. Having growth and development opportunities for key talent has been critical for retention, and enhancing the employee experience is a strategic focus. Learning and development teams are dispersed across the organization, working independently to address business unit needs. Looking ahead, Maureen sensed that the company was also going to be focusing on efficiency in response to market changes and the continued integration of the acquired companies. Seeing the opportunity to improve the employee experience and create cost efficiencies across the learning organizations, she brought together her fellow learning leaders. They designed and implemented a new shared services organization that centralizes training development and vendor management. It will create standardized branding and processes, leverage tools, and create cost savings from consistently negotiated contracts. This creates a more consistent employee experience across learning functions and more efficiently addresses learning needs across the company.

These five behaviours, when used in concert with each other, create culture shifts that increase change agility. They are shifts that need to be made at all levels of leadership. They can mean the difference between success and just being an also-ran. They can also help to make sure the desired changes actually occur with everyone on-board.

4 Principles of Change: What can go wrong and how to do it better!

March 18, 2020 by  

McKinsey has an influence model that speaks of four building blocks of change. This model says that if a change is to happen in an organization, it will be a combination of the leaders being role models, the people having a clear understanding of and alignment to the change, as well as the capabilities to act on it and the organization having the systems and processes to make this happen.

While these models vary in terms of specifics, the practitioners and experts agree on the following:
1. The need for effective communication to ensure a sense of urgency as well as the vision ahead.
2. The need for leaders to be more involved in change efforts and act as role models for the rest of the organization.
3. The need for systems/processes to ensure the change is transformed into a habit.

In my experience, there are four principles that require attention. If these are not managed correctly, they give rise to deeper issues that impede success in even the best-performing organizations:
1. Communication that becomes more of an advertising campaign with unidirectional messaging targeted to the “what” and “how” rather than the “why” behind the change. In addition, concerns and fears need to be addressed and compelling reasons why the change will be beneficial to everyone is another key to effective communication.
2. Leaders who are seen as “false sponsors” because their attention is divided and their interest waivers will prevent the change from happening as they need to model their commitment and demonstrate their belief in its necessity.
3. Progress that rarely is measured formally, and when it is, looks only at lagging indicators is not positive. Better to look at the forward movement and support that continuance with the appropriate support and timeline.
4. A continuous launch of change initiatives and priorities that weigh down the organization and make focus impossible will not move change forward. Change is becoming the new norm and everyone needs to get used to that even though it is not very comfortable for most people. Again, appropriate support, adequate time and great encouragement will greatly assist forward movement.

Below are ways to combat such situations and improve the odds of success.

Principle One: engaging communication

What usually happens: Communication becomes more of an advertising campaign with unidirectional messaging targeted to the “what” and “how” rather than the “why” behind the change
Why it happens: One-way communication means the recipients of the information are left alone to interpret it for themselves (so the same information can be seen in different ways by different people, depending on their previous experiences, current mindset, etc). Additionally, attention spans vary so greatly from person to person that a large percentage of the communication may be lost. Communication focuses solely on the “what is next” and the “what to do”, which means that recipients are not guided through the “why” of the change. Thus, a sense of urgency is not created, and people are less open to and motivated by the “what to do next.”

How to do it better: The way to ensure engagement and alignment is to work through an interactive communication tool. Participants can use discovery-based methodologies in a structured way to reach conclusions themselves as to why the change needs to happen, and what they need to do to make it happen. These tools have to be company appropriate and moment-specific and must be leader-led to ensure the right conversations are taking place. Such tools, like engage maps, are structured around the three themes of “Why the change”, “What is the new framework/model and what does it mean for us”, and “How will we get from where we are to the new desired state.”

Principle Two: true leadership

What usually happens: Leaders who are seen as “false sponsors” because their attention is divided and their interest waivers.
Why it happens: In many changes and transformations, leaders focus on “business as usual” and delegate the change process to departments like HR or IT, or to external consultants. This produces a disconnect. In addition, leaders are often not aligned with the changes themselves and, therefore, when their teams face issues or questions, their responses and actions are contradictory to the change.
How to do it better: It is key that leaders be seen as role models. In order to do that, they must be the first ones to align with the change and, therefore, be the first ones trained on tools such as engage maps. They also need to take ownership of the change and demonstrate that to their people.

Principle Three: the need for measurement and monitoring

What usually happens: Progress that rarely is measured formally, and when it is, looks only at lagging indicators
Why it happens: Many transformation and change efforts focus on the very end indicators such as the percentage of new digital clients in the bank, which become lagging indicators which are only measured after it happens. Sometimes these types of measurements make it difficult to show the impact of the transformation process and how it is progressing.
How to do it better: It is important to be able to track both result-oriented indicators as well as activity indicators, as they can reveal a leading effect. These leading indicators can also identify the barriers to transformation and give us “heat maps” as to where the positive action is happening and what else we might need to do to keep moving forward.

Principle Four: the essence of focus

What usually happens: A continuous launch of change initiatives and priorities that weigh down the organization and make focus impossible.
Why it happens: Change fatigue is a common issue in organizations: “This year’s change initiative is…..tends to be a joke for employees. The complexity of the tools and models of an organization can make it difficult for employees to know what is expected of them.
How to do it better: Limit transformational actions to the ones that are crucial and require the employees’ full attention. Link these actions to the rest of the changes in the organization, such as compensation system changes, reporting shifts, and organizational moves.

It is worth investing the time and resources in a change management people process that looks at these four principles and implements ways to ensure the right impact. As an old African proverb states, “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

Transitioning…..the Process for Change

October 26, 2016 by  

Managing transitions can be very frustrating for leaders because this process is not linear or sequential. Rather transition management requires a multifaceted, simultaneous approach. There is a wide variety of ways that can be implemented to support people throughout the change process.

After identifying some of the pitfalls and challenges of the change process, the question is: What can leaders do to implement changes more successfully? There is no easy answer to that query.

Here are 6 key areas that will help you to deal more effectively with this process.

The list includes the needs that should be addressed by people when going through change.

• Trust and betrayal
• Coping with Anger
Transition Management

Successful transitions begin and end with effective leaders. Employees need to feel supported, encouraged, and respected by their supervisors. In fact, when exiting employees are asked why they are leaving, most identify the issue as, “not being treated with respect by their manager.”

Leadership is particularly challenging in times of change. If there is an atmosphere of trust, respect, and rapport developed through open, honest, clear communication, and transparent integrity, transitions happen much more smoothly.

For a change to be successful, employees need to be fully engaged and involved in the process. That happens only where there are the following pieces in place.

The first rule of engagement is clarity. People need clear information about the change. They also need answers to all their questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how? Clarity allays people’s fears and helps them to feel more committed and willing to embrace the change. Ambiguity, withheld information and double speak only fuels fears and rumors which will work against the process.

Competence is the second rule of engagement. People who are good at what they do, feel more committed to their work. This does not mean that employees do not like to be challenged, because they do! However, if a task is overwhelming, it frightens people and makes them feel less confident. This creates a barrier for people going through transitions because the change may feel overwhelming. Leaders need to support and encourage employees to be able to make “skill links” from the old to the new. Even though employees may be required to try something new and different, they will be more likely to accept this new approach if they are able to use their strengths and skills in the new system or process.

People want to have influence and feel they have some control over their situation so that they can be engaged in the process. People will be more committed to an idea if they own it. Conversely, no one likes to be forced to comply. Leaders who take this rule seriously ask for employees’ input and look for ways to implement the as many of the suggestions as possible. This will be a win-win.

People want to be appreciated and acknowledged for the good work they are doing. When leaders notice and express their thanks for a job well done, employees feel more committed to their work and their performance and self-confidence will improve. A simple thanks so much for working late last week or coming in early to finish you portion of the project….shows that the supervisor noticed the efforts of the employee.

Trust and Betrayal
There is nothing worse than feeling that you have been betrayed and often when ‘change is in the air’, employees feel they have been let down and betrayed because they were feeling comfortable and confident and now you are taking all that away from them. The way to prevent the feelings of betrayal is to clearly and openly lay out the change vision and let them know exactly how it is going to happen, the sort of support they can expect and that the leadership is more than willing to entertain suggestions, listen to concerns and explain the process fully and in small steps. Once they feel part of the process and understand their role and what they will now be doing, how they will be supported toward that end and what the time frame will be, they will feel much more relaxed and maybe even excited about the new changes.

Coping with Anger
It is only natural that some people will feel angry about the change as once again, they are comfortable with their work, understand what they have to do and now you are telling them that it is going to change. When people are angry they make mistakes, do not listen well and are unhappy and stressed. These feelings can pervade an entire organization and make this process even more difficult to accomplish. Therefore strategies to overcome these sorts of feelings must be offered and expected for some employees. For some, it is the fear of failure or just of the unknown that can make them angry, so the support systems you will put into place need to be explained and put into operation. Just listening to concerns can also allay fears so employing active listening is key to coping with this issue as well.

Transition Management
Creating and implementing a multi-layered plan to achieve the vision for this change is essential to the success of any change. You must get your management team on board first and all must be wholly committed to this change and be able to demonstrate that commit to the rest of the employees. Usually no simple plan works, that is why several stages must be developed with options when some aspects do not occur as expected. This is the key to effecting change so the development and implementation of this plan is key to your success.

This may actually be the most important part of your plan. Without clear, open, honest, impactful and influential communication being used to articulate your plan as well as excellent active listening skills to hear concerns, suggestions and strategies suggested by others, the change will not occur. Employees need to feel that their ideas are heard, in addition when you actually employ some of them, they will be more likely to buy into the process and the ultimate change because they were part of it. Collaborative approaches are usually much better accepted than changes that are forced upon people. And, because change usually invites rumors, often unfounded, but rumors nonetheless, these need to be addressed and dealt with appropriately so that employees will eventually feel comfortable and able to embrace the change and your process will be successful.

These simple actions can go a long way toward engaging and committing your employees to the change that must occur as it brings them on board with encouragement, feelings of collaboration and a clear understanding of what is happening, how it affects them and how they are going to fit in once the transition has been completed. The atmosphere will be so much more positive and engaged when this approach is embraced by the leadership and experienced by the employees.

Change…..the New Normal

September 23, 2016 by  

In today’s rapidly changing world of technology, worker values, political forces and organization structures, individuals who cannot adapt to change are going to struggle in the workplace. In addition, change is not readily accepted by humans as they prefer the status quo and what they know.
Most people fear change and when that emotion pervades a company culture, performance is lowered, sick days increase, and even turnover can occur. Therefore, in order to reduce those common side effects, a strong change plan must be established and employed because “Change is the event and transition is the process.”

Without a good change plan, with several back up positions when it does not totally unfold as expected, your change event will not occur. So a great multi-layered approach definitely needs to be created and put into operation. In addition, the leadership must be strongly committed to this new vision for the company and be able to demonstrate that commitment to the rest of the organization.
So in your business, what can you do to make sure that when that inevitable changes comes along that you will be able to get your employees on board?

Here are some key issues to consider when you are facing change:
1. The leadership needs a clear vision of how they wish to move forward.
2. Compelling reasons why this change will be beneficial to everyone need to be developed and shared with the organization.
3. A practical means to achieve this vision needs to be planned out, well developed and then implemented. A specific time line should also be established for the outcome.
4. Certain rewards and consequences should be offered to encourage behaviours compatible with the vision and change.
5. Clear lines of communication need to be established so that open, honest, and effective exchanges can occur and employees will feel comfortable to offer feedback. In this way, concerns can be addressed and rumors deflected and explained away….as they will abound. In addition the key issues that need to be addressed are the risks, the benefits, the resources, the reasons. All need to be very definitely explained in ways that are positive.
6. A strong support system must be implemented to allow the employees time, help, and encouragement as they learn what has to be done, how it will happen, and what their new responsibilities may be. The better they understand how it will affect them, and are made to feel confident that they will succeed, the better the chance that this change event will actually happen with most people ultimately onboard with it.

If you are to effect a successful change in your organization you need to fully understand the issues that you will face, the resistance you will find, and the challenges you will encounter in order to make it happen. Be aware of the necessity for patience, active listening, clear communication of your vision, a strong demonstration of the commitment to this change and an understanding that this will not be an easy process.

Finally, if you want employees to celebrate new beginnings, you will need to provide opportunities for them to mourn the past and to let go of familiar ways of doing their work. Even as this change is, hopefully, a gain for your organization, it is also a loss of what is known and comfortable.
People may lose co-workers, work processes they know and understand, familiar ways of doing things, established communication networks, security and stability, or confidence in their own capability. Acknowledge those losses, so that you can assist people to move more quickly with you into the brave new world.