Managing Change – What Effective Leaders Do?
Managing change is the make or break for successful organizations and their leaders. A good leader can help to make change possible even in adverse situations!
What happens when you want to make changes in your company? We start with the best of intentions and with innovative ideas, meetings, vision statements, data collection, and strategic plans and goals. Maybe we want to increase sales, improve or introduce new products and services, streamline work processes, enhance customer service, expand the business, and so on. We are optimistic that positive results will follow. We would never implement change with the expectation that it will fail. After all, if we expected it to fail, then why bother?
Yet, organizational change efforts often do fail. Why?
To survive and thrive, every organization - from for-profit to non-profit to governmental - has to know how to navigate change. But sadly, 75% of change initiatives fail, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Co. That means organizations inevitably suffer, and the leaders of those failed initiatives get hit with major setbacks.
Change fails for a number of reasons. Sometimes the company’s culture simply doesn’t tolerate change. People aren’t ready for it yet and they resist it. Maybe the change was ill-conceived, poorly thought-out, or even unnecessary. Perhaps needed resources weren’t available, or the timing just wasn’t right. But one of the biggest obstacles to change is the behaviour of leaders. Not only can leaders fail to manage change effectively, but their behaviours can make things even worse, resulting in a situation where it would have been better to do nothing!
It’s easy for leaders to say that they need to improve and invest in doing things better (either because the marketplace is telling them to or because they need to be proactive before circumstances force their hand). The reality is that without strategy, change is merely substitution – not evolution. Simply put, you can have an idea, but without the right strategy and execution of the idea, very little if any progress will be made. When leaders fall into this trap, they are being irresponsible and their credibility suffers, their intentions come into question, and doubt begins to loom about their capabilities and know-how
Change management is in full-force across all industries and preparedness begins at the top and this means that leadership – across all levels – must have absolute clarity in purpose and focus; there also must be alignment in strategic philosophy and resolution goals.
Leaders who demonstrate the following behaviours are perceived as successful in implementing change initiatives:
- Communicate frequently and enthusiastically: Successful leaders provide abundant, relevant, and truthful information about the change, and communicate how the change will personally affect employees. While it’s important to be realistic and not overly optimistic, ambivalent communication will produce resistance and weaken the leader’s credibility in building a case for why change is needed.
- Motivate employees: Successful leaders establish an environment that is conducive to change and persuade employees to work toward common goals. Leaders who are skilled in creating an atmosphere of motivation during a change initiative “communicate effectively, address employees’ questions, generate creative ideas, prioritize ideas, direct personnel practices, plan employees’ actions, commit employees to action, and provide follow-up to overcome motivational problems.”
- Build teams: Successful leaders promote synergistic teamwork. Leaders clearly define roles and expectations, but at the same time, value and welcome diversity of work styles, skills, and backgrounds.
- Act as coaches: Coaches build one-on-one relationships with the intent of improving employees’ ability to maximize their strengths and work cooperatively with others during and after the change initiative. A coach is a future-oriented agent of change. Mentoring, counselling, training, and providing feedback are coaching behaviors that can help in facilitating organizational change.
It should be obvious that the leadership behaviors necessary for effective change are people-oriented. Too often, leaders simply mandate change and expect employees to fall in line and get it done, but do little or nothing to help them get there. Leaders who focus on people are likely to be the most successful in managing change in their companies.