Strong skills for managing change are an important part of any organization's development program. David Kelly, head of development at UK-based Unicus Coaching and Development, gives his five steps for success. These steps can be used within your own organization that is experiencing change or can be communicated to a client who's company is facing a change.
When it comes to leading change, many managers assume that because a change has been announced most of their people will react negatively or at least apprehensively. This is not the case; for example, one person's fear of a takeover by another company is another person's door of opportunity.
When leading a change that has the potential to be badly received, what can a good leader do to help ensure the change has the best opportunity of success? My experience of being heavily involved in many mergers and acquisitions has demonstrated that there are five practical steps that effective leaders can take. These steps apply equally to leaders of huge organizations as they do to leaders of small teams within organizations.
Five steps for success
As a leader you must be clear about the main purpose behind the change. Help your team members to understand the reasons for the change. You are not trying to convince them necessarily to agree with it or to like it; but simply to understand why. Finally you need to work with the individuals to help them to create a positive vision for themselves in the future.
As a leader it is likely that you have already agreed upon a set of values, a modus operandi, with your team in the past. Or perhaps your organization has values for the entire business. In times of change these values give you a guide as to how you and your team will operate, how they will behave and treat each other.
If there are no values in place, make it a priority to discuss and agree upon these as soon as possible. You may want to consider integrity, respect, and performance as three key values. So, no matter what happens, you agree that all of us operate with integrity, treat one another with respect, and focus on delivery. Even if a change may mean some will lose their positions or their security, their future employability will be enhanced if they can leave with their heads held high, proud of their professionalism and performance.
Whether it's a change of work practices, change of role, or company closure, as a leader you have to do your utmost to give your people the capability to come though the change successfully. You may need to provide them with new skills or knowledge required to reach their own vision or the organization's vision.
It certainly means providing them with regular information as to the state of play. You need to give them the time and the scope to be listened to: many leaders see communication through times of change as a one way street. It's not – people need to talk and need to be listened to as well.
They will need time to digest what the change means for them and to think about the way ahead. They need time to realize that, although they may not be able to control the change being made, they certainly can control how they react to it and how they can plan their future.
As a leader you need to discover what each individual would value as an incentive to help the change succeed, even if initially they see the outcome as being less than positive for themselves.
It may require some financial reward for their input to the change, or it may be a form of public or private recognition. It could be getting them to take the lead in some project related to the change, or providing them with counseling or coaching support. As a leader you should discover the incentive and bring it in line with your values and practical business needs. Go some way, or all of the way, to provide it.
With any change, everyone needs to know how it is expected to progress. Determine the stages or steps towards the new situation and agree upon action plans for each employee, outlining what is expected of them, deadlines, what help they may need and where this support is available.
With an action plan in place, each individual has a clear sense of direction and purpose. They gain a feeling of being somewhat in control of the situation, which in itself is a huge positive. Most people say that the biggest frustration, concern, or anger with any change is the feeling of helplessness, of being out of control, of having the change imposed upon them. Working with an action plan and an agreed goal removes a great deal of this negative feedback.
This doesn't guarantee success but certainly improves its chances. There may still be those who cannot or will not accept the change. You need to spend time listening to them, but ensure you take this time with all team members to avoid the suggestion that the way to your ear is by being resistant.
There will be times when what you have communicated will happen doesn't happen. This will be easier to navigate if you have adopted an approach of communicating as much as you can as soon as you can. So be honest – things alter, timelines slip or are brought forward. If you have lived your values and demonstrated these in your previous actions – particularly respect and integrity – the team will understand.
As a leader in times of change, you have to be many people: a leader who leads by example, is a role model, and lives the agreed values, a team player, and a professional, who never loses sight of the business whilst supporting the employees. Becoming a master of change leadership is crucial, for as Heraclitus reportedly said, "Nothing endures but change."
By David Kelly, head of development, Unicus Coaching and Development