In organisations it can sometimes feel like the only constant is change. Whether that be introducing new systems and ways of working or more significant organisational or culture changes. As a leader making change happen can be one of the biggest part of your jobs and potentially the most challenging. A lot of people feel uncomfortable and unsettled by change and your role as a leader is to guide them through to the new environment.
Here are some tips from my experience both as a leader and as part of a team on how to successfully lead change and guide your teams.
Go slow to go fast
Don’t try and rush through a change. Help people get prepared through early messages setting out the need for a change and what the reward for change will be. This can build momentum towards the desired change happening and being accepted. It allows people to process what it will mean for them and how they work in the new situation. Investing the time and patience up front, no matter how much you are being pushed to achieve results quickly, will make things much easier down the road.
Get people involved early
Identify those people who will be impacted by the change, including supporting functions, customers and other stakeholders. Involve people early on in the discussions around the change and allow them to feel ownership in how it is being shaped. This helps them feel like they have influence and some control, as perceived loss of control is one of the causes of resistance to change. It helps those impacted at other parts of the journey to see the reasons for the change and provide constructive support rather than being approached at the end and feeling pressurised to give a response that might be more resistant. It also allows you to get more ideas and consider elements you might well have missed at a time where you can still easily adjust your course.
Listen with all your senses
Some people may be resistant to change. Their resistance could be driven by a number of factors. It can be a fear of the unknown, uncertainty of the outcome, doubt about what’s in it for them or an expectation that it might bring them more work. They might not be telling you this overtly but can still slow your change down.
If you make time to tune in to the team and spot signals that they are not onboard and then to try and understand their concerns this can make a huge difference. Ensure you have allowed time for people to process the impact and provide opportunities to raise concerns. Some will be challenges that will help you adapt and provide a better outcome. Other concerns may be emotional responses and need space to be heard and addressed to allow people to adapt to the change. You may need to probe to understand what is the real cause underlying the resistance.
Find your champions
The title “change champions” is one heard across industries and this is not surprising. In the same way that marketeers will target early adopters, if you get those people who are more open to change and willing to try something new involved early, they can quickly become your best advocates. I find that people place more trust in one of their peers highlighting the benefits of a change and showing how it has impacted their work, rather than being told the same by the programme manager or a boss. These champions need to be people genuinely supportive of the change rather than just having this lumped on their plate to be successful. It is also helpful to ensure that leadership of your organisation is visibly supportive of the change so the team know it is important and relevant.
Communicate openly and frequently
The above points all rely on good communication. Make sure that rumours don’t swirl around a project, which can create unnecessary fear when people are misinformed. The best way to ensure this is regular updates and opportunities to discuss. Be clear around the scope of the project and what is and isn’t being included, as well as timelines. If these timelines change then make sure this is known too. If you manage expectations implementation and embedding change will be easier. If it is a difficult organisational change then it is important to be as open and honest as possible about what the change is and why it is needed. People appreciate certainty and whilst it is not always possible to provide completely, the more clarity you can give the better to help people adjust.
Follow up and provide ongoing support
Too often the completion of change projects are seen as the end of the implementation and we move onto the next project. However this often means that systems are not fully adopted, behaviours don’t really change or there is some underlying resentment from the process. It is important that there is consistent follow up, support and communication in the new environment to embed the new way of working, even when the project managers have moved on. If there is a cultural change or new way of working then consistency in reward of the expected behaviours is essential for people to believe that the change is genuine and lasting. Otherwise the time, money and energy that has been invested can be wasted.
If you are leading a change and would benefit from a constructive challenger and safe space to explore your approach, get in touch to discuss coaching options.