Change is constant, inevitable and natural – particularly in a dynamic business environment. Throughout the business cycle, change is something that typically happens as a reaction to circumstances. Human beings generally don’t like change and we tend to hope that change is just a temporary inconvenience, a brief setback until we can get back to a familiar state and business as usual. Leaders must acknowledge that resistance is a natural part of the change process.
As we cross the threshold into a new year, business leaders have a fresh opportunity to be more proactive about creating changes throughout the organization – from a new product or service launch to reworking the organizational structure or developing talent, refining processes and procedures or cultivating a conscious culture.
Regardless of whether we have committed to making proactive changes in our business or we are simply reacting to conditions that require us to change, the most significant challenges associated with creating change are getting stakeholder buy-in, executing well, and making change stick.
Because of the fast-paced nature of our businesses and the environments in which we operate, change management is no longer an occasionally needed leadership skill; the most effective leaders are able to successfully create intelligent change constantly.
How to gain buy-in for change.
In the words of Simon Sinek, “Start with why”. In order to gain buy-in for change, the people impacted by it need to first understand why it is happening. Leaders must answer questions like – “What were the signals indicating change is needed?” and “What is at stake if change does not occur?” so that team members get a true sense of what is driving the change.
Second, a clear purpose for the change needs to be communicated along with a compelling and realistic future vision. Leaders must paint a clear picture of both how the individual and the organization will be better off as a result of the change.
Once the vision for change is presented, those that will be impacted by the change will need some time to process the new information and the potential impact it will have on the way they work and collaborate with others. An open and inclusive forum for questions, debate and new ideas is critically important during the buy-in phase. This is an opportunity to reinforce trust and grow an organization’s ability to be in a state of “productive conflict”. Productive conflict is an open exchange of ideas where all parties feel equally heard, respected, and unafraid to present dissenting opinions. During these important dialogues, leaders need to uncover what must be fulfilled for alignment to take place, but this doesn’t happen in one meeting. Multiple facilitated sessions may be required to allow team members to work through the processes required to support the change.
When the need for change becomes meaningful to most everyone in the organization, a sense of shared purpose will emerge and greatly contribute to the commitment levels necessary to execute. It is important for leaders to acknowledge that 100 percent buy-in is unrealistic. Not everyone will embrace the change and leaders need to be prepared to address this in a way that serves the organizational change that must occur.
How to execute change well.
A well-defined road map for change must be created to ensure that everyone understands their role in the process and how decisions will be made. Important questions to ask at this phase are: What from the past will we leave behind? What from the past do we want to carry into the future? What are the new qualities that will describe us in the future? What responsibilities will each of us take on to realize the change?
This is the time when setbacks, disruptions and conflicts can cause the change process to lose momentum. The open and inclusive forum for conversation about change that was created during the buy-in phase needs to be sustained. Effective leaders know and accept that people adapt to change at different speeds and for different reasons.
When I advise business teams about navigating intelligent change, I typically see three types of adapters: leapers, bridge-builders and tradition holders. Leapers are quick to buy-in and are natural trail blazers. Bridge-builders need more rationale to buy-in and like for change to be orderly and controlled. Tradition-holders tend to resist change and need strong evidence that the change will be worth the time and energy. Sound familiar? Understanding, acknowledging and intentionally leveraging these types of adapters is fundamental to the change process. Leapers are best suited for heading up change efforts, bridge-builders are key to implementing new processes and procedures (i.e. building bridges for others to cross), and tradition-holders are best tasked with overseeing the risk management and identifying the core values of the organization that most need to be honored while the change unfolds. Clearly defined roles, ongoing dialogue and shared responsibility will generate well-executed change.
How to ensure change sticks.
Standing together as a leadership team, reminding the organization about the “why”, and proactively communicating progress – even the small wins – will ensure change sticks. Cultivating a culture that genuinely supports each other in the change process, particularly when things get difficult, is essential. Remember, behind every complaint there is a request and an opportunity to explore what is needed to gain further buy-in and create necessary actions and behaviors needed to successfully realize a future vision.
The need for change will always be preceded by signals that reveal what is happening or about to happen in the organization. These signals are simply disturbances that point to the need for something new. When leaders pay attention to the signals they have a better chance of anticipating what is needed and acting proactively, becoming initiators of intelligent change rather than victims of it.
Grow with purpose…