THE C WORD … Change What it Means for Leaders
I’m hearing it everywhere; we need agile, responsive, flexible organisations – requiring the need to continually evolve and change. Thought leaders are promulgating about creating a receptive culture, the role of leadership and the impact of change fatigue. Ok; hands up – I’m guilty!
But when change is seen as a fundamental business requirement and research shows only 30% of change succeeds (Jacobs et al), it means a staggering 70% doesn’t! What is it that the 30% have? Prosci one of the worlds leading companies focused on change management research confirms that the main cause of failure is ineffective sponsorship by leaders.
The rate and pace of change, only seems to be going in one direction – up. People do and can cope with change. We have shown this with our continual adoption of new technology, tablets, smart phones, IoT all of which are increasingly influencing the way we live our lives. Why does this happen, its simple really – we want it to.
Apple has been so successful because they understood their consumer. They anticipated their discomfort and they built to their hunger. User-friendly devices that even those who’d previously considered themselves as technologically phobic could use to get online. The reward of something new, that positively impacts our lives drives us to change our habits and behaviour. Apple was most successful because they got ‘why’ we would want their products and designed to need.
Developing a compelling case for change that is meaningful to the people who will deliver it and for those it will impact drives success. Its necessary to demonstrate why the change is important for the organisation and equally why it is important for the people delivering it. People can cut through smoke and mirrors, so it is critical this is done authentically. They must feel that the perceived discomfort will be worthwhile.
The case must be meaningful to those you are asking to change, creating outcomes that validate the level of disruption they will face. This can only come from understanding – for most employees driving sharing holder value will not cut it. Having a critical business requirement does not negate the need to understand and design and deliver change that creates a draw for people, by showing improvements in the system that benefit them.
The notion of ‘leader knows best’ is often both very dangerous and disengaging. The first problem early on is a failure to understand critical factors that staff face that are occurring within the organisation. This is not something that leaders can pay lip service to. It does not alienate the leader from the responsibility to understand and consider what is good and should be kept as well as what needs to change. Demonstrating real listening, understanding and partnership within change is key; unless the ship is at imminent risk of sinking. Research is clear and uncompromising on this fact.
This is particularly critical during periods of sustained change that affect the cultural fabric of an organisation. Unless the people within the company understand, see and believe the case for change, your chances of delivering it successfully massively diminish. Change will be pushed back by the organisational system where it clashes with its underlying values and culture and where no buy-in has been secured .
Leaders need to understand, consider and work with both the espoused and actual values and culture of their business. Failure to do this presents a significant risk to the outcome, increasing resistance for change. When sponsoring change organisations need to ensure that they get access to real information and data about what is going on. Throughout the change process it is critical that they remain engaged, communicating and listening, making and revising plans accordingly. This comes from developing, understanding and aligning with the business and its risks.
Some argue that the most economical and cost effective change strategy is to adopt an semi-incremental approach with stable intervals punctuated occasionally by revolutionary periods of change. For this change leaders must hold creative visions, being able to foresee and translate a new reality, creating and demonstrating a successful road map to get there. To be able to successfully articulate this within a business, change leaders have to understand how their employees perceive change and ensure they accept the change and are ready for it. There is not one broad-brush approach.
Kanter provides the skills required for the leadership of change.
- Tuning in to the environment.
- Challenging the prevailing organizational wisdom.
- Communicating a compelling aspiration.
- Building coalitions.
- Transferring ownership to a working team.
- Learning to preserve.
- Making everyone a hero
Embarking on an organisational change process takes proper planning and analysis will help you identify the gap between where the organisation is now and where it wants to be. Looking at the organisational culture, both espoused and real, understanding the risk profile and identifying the environmental conditions required for the change plan to succeed.
To be successful you need to be part of the process, engaging throughout; open and comfortable enough with yourself, having the people skills to empower and enable change to occur. As the change leader once you have set out the case for change you must be prepared to be the facilitator of it; helping others to understand, managing the ambiguity and enabling greatness within your team. These are skills that delivered successfully stretch the competence and abilities of leaders.
For organisations that are seeking to adopt an ongoing change approach these concepts need to become the culture, the how we do things round here. We help leaders to gain the mindset and transition both their career and business through our coaching and development approaches. Our coaching programmes provide the tools that deliver significant insight into leadership approaches for individuals and their organisations. We support our clients to develop effectively and achieve challenging outcomes…
Kanter, R.M. (2000), “Leaders with passion, conviction and confidence can use several techniques to take charge of change rather than react to it”, Ivey Business Journal , Vol. 64 No. 5, p. 32.
Jacobs, G. , van Witteloostuijn, A. and Christe-Zeyse, J. (2013), “A theoretical framework of organizational change”, Journal of Organizational Change Management , Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 772-792