- …the role of leadership
Global research has it that the average organization undergoes several enterprise changes. By ‘change’ it means progress and individuals within the organization collectively change to create the future state desirous of the organization. Change is not always comfortable, and it may challenge several assumptions and the way the organization and its employees are used to doing and seeing things.
Major change effects impact the organization across all levels, especially those change initiatives that have more frequent and widespread significant impacts and considerations to managing the individuals through this change process. Change at the level of the organization challenges employees to have faith in the larger picture, the eventual results, each other and the future.
According to Robin Sharma: change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end. Therefore, leadership ought to ensure this change process is better managed throughout the transition period with transformational initiatives to bring about the anticipated results.
Conventionally, several corporate leaders opine that failing to manage employees through change can be costly. Typically, employees who are dissatisfied with or upset by change plans generally refuse to pledge their support, and remain less productive in the change process. Such employees ask questions like “Why can’t things stay the same? This will never work’; What changes are underway? Why are these changes being made?”
How will these changes impact the organization? An organizational leader who is serious about addressing these concerns must adopt critical strategic change management and communication plans, the road map for change sponsors, integrated training programmes and a plan for dealing with any inherent resistance that may rear its head. In fact, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to managing change, so there is no perfect way to lead it. But, in general, it is important to stay authentic and lead in a way that is right for you as a leader to produce great change outcomes.
More importantly, and as we may know, the current state defines who the organization is; it also shows whether the organization has been successful or failed. The current state is often comfortable and predictable to stay in; therefore, employees feel reluctant to change this status quo. It is equally worth noting that not everyone changes at the same pace.
The imperative for organizations to realize results from change and engage a workforce in the process speaks loudly across all industries, organization sizes and geography. As such, change leaders must play a pivotal role in ensuring their organization realizes its unique vision of a different and brighter future by bringing the entire team on board the change process. This article seeks to address the impacts and role of leadership in managing organizational change. Let’s talk managing change, the leader’s role.
There are always new changes to meet/make and better ways of doing things. However, every change an organization needs to make should be planned and implemented with care; otherwise, it could end up doing more harm than good. When organizations undertake projects or initiatives to improve performance, seize opportunities or address key issues, they often require changes to processes, job roles, organizational structures and uses of technology.
Organizational change is inevitable in a progressive culture. A culture of progressive change sees leadership periodically contemplate how to create the new organization that it wants to see. This objective often brings about the question of whether the organization should embark on, keep or change projects/programmes which may consolidate or strengthen its position to remain competitive and resilient, or position it as a market leader.
Besides, the organization may not necessarily alter the existing state, products or human resources – but wants to preserve yet scale-up the current state and strengthen it. All such organizational efforts must ensure the development of adaptability to some form of change, otherwise it will either be left behind or be swept away by the forces of change. Notably, the survival, growth or decay of any organization depends on the changing behaviour of their employees.
What is ‘organizational change’? Organizational change refers to the process of growth, decline and transformation within the organization. Though organizations are enduring structures in a changing society, they go through changes all the time.
Organizations may change their strategy or purposes, introduce new products or services, change the way they produce and sell, change their technology, enter new markets, close down departments or plants, hire new employees or acquire other organizations.
Organizational change may come in the form of mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, bankruptcy, business closure, outsourcing and changes within the human resources functions.
Having said this, change which may be positive or negative must be managed through a systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and resources. It involves defining and adopting corporate strategies, structures, procedures and technologies to handle any external conditions of the business environment.
The primary goal for managing a change is to successfully implement new processes, products and business strategies while minimizing negative outcomes. But change normally does not go smoothly due to uncertainties of the outcomes and the unknown future, hence resistance.
The uncertainty of the future and why change is resisted
People resist change because of uncertainties about the future which are worrisome and not fully defined. This may result from the notion that the future state may not match the employees’ personal and professional goals, or they are simply comfortable with the current state.
Leaders who manage change often encounter negative outcomes when the organization undertakes projects or initiatives to improve performance, seize opportunities or address key issues – especially those which often require changes to processes, job roles, organizational structures.
This notwithstanding, it is expected employees will ultimately change their attitude toward any change initiative and note that unsuccessful change and transition attempts have significant impacts on the organization’s general wellbeing.
Though not all change ends up well, if employees and key agents of change would fully engage, adopt and support change efforts and initiatives, the objective for the organization by which the change is carried would guarantee key results. Moreover, to keep pace in a constantly evolving business world, organizations often need to implement enterprise-wide changes affecting their processes, products and people effectively.
Change is a fact of life in businesses today. It can be difficult, and people often resist it. But to develop an agile workplace culture, organizations should follow a systematic approach to managing major change perceived as negative from the employee perspective and the question of what’s in it for me, so that leadership can bring everyone on board.
Why does change fail?
Resistance to change is the largest obstacle that leaders are faced with when initiating a change effort. It can be very damaging to the process, and can potentially stall the efforts to move forward if not addressed appropriately. Woodrow Wilson noted: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something”.
There can be a significantly negative impact on the team or organization when a change initiative fails, or when its implementation is unplanned. According to John P. Kotter, organizations often make several common errors which hinder their change efforts. Typically, change resistance may result from:
To cite employee resistance to change is to mention the many reasons why an employee may resist change. Leaders of change under this peculiar circumstance must be sensitive to how individuals in the team respond to the change agenda, while keeping in mind that the process of commitment and acceptance takes time.
Barry Johnson, in this regard, noted that “though there is wisdom in resistance”, the leader must leverage on his relationship with the team to address employee concerns on a personal level, curing all potential mischiefs which may have disingenuous consequences for the change plan. To prevent this from happening the change leader asks for employee’s feedback and, crucially, responds to their concerns honestly and openly.
Again, it is equally important to acknowledge that every change process requires constant communication and updates of key information to employees on an on-going and consistent basis, detailing progress made. Allowing too much complacency, failing to garner leadership support, underestimating the power of vision and undermining effective communication of the vision, and allowing obstacles to block the new vision have great tendencies to curtail change efforts. Additionally, failing to create short-term wins and early declaration of victory have regrettable consequences on the change outcomes.
Drivers of Change
Change and transition often looks messy, disorganized, less productive and emotionally charged. Karen Kaiser Clark remarked that “Life is change; growth is optional. Therefore, we must choose wisely”. The question is, how do you take a group or individual from the current state to the future state? How do you lead change as a leader? Change begins with understanding why, and what the nature of the change is all about. The need for change and the risk from not changing may provoke making personal decisions and commitments to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”
A personal choice and the decision to engage and participate in change requires knowing how. To promote understanding of how to change, training change agents on new processes and tools will provide the learning skills to enable employees pledge their full support for the new course.
The demonstrated capability to implement the change and anticipated desire for achieving the desired change in performance would also warrant a change of behaviour from all those the change will affect. Besides, the change and the action plans – through rewards and recognition – must be reinforced to ensure the sustainability and continuity of actions taken. No organization can afford to stand still; change is the way forward.
Leadership Response to Change Resistance
As leaders of change, you have a critical role to play in ensuring that the change effort is successful. Usually, leaders are expected to accept their employees’ reactions, remain open about their losses and show empathy to those affected. Those that are negatively affected by the change effects ought to be compensated for their losses. Additionally, while the leader provides all employees with adequate information regarding the change, he must show care and concern. How does the leader overcome resistance to change?
Overcoming resistance and gaining buy-in
Leaders have the greatest task of addressing employee’s fears when the outcomes are negative, or perceived as negative. The greater concerns normally include compromised job security, increased monitoring of activities, working with unfamiliar systems and periodic declines in productivity. Feelings of uncertainty leading to high stress and anxiety among employees can be curtailed when the leader’s efforts to gain buy-in succeeds.
Leadership role in change efforts
All change efforts or initiatives must start with a vision. Whether change is prompted by external (political, economic, social or technological) or internal factors (policy, systems or structure), creating a vision will clarify the direction for the change. In addition, the vision will assist in motivating those that are impacted to take action in the right direction. And it is the leader’s duty to initiate this vision process.
Organizational change ought to be managed through the identification of groups and people who will need to change as a result of the project, and ways to deal with those that will be affected by the change. Change management ensures that people effectively engage, adopt and use solutions. While it is a natural psychological and physiological human reaction to resist change, the understanding is that, actually, humans are quite resilient creatures.
When individuals are supported through times of change, they can be wonderfully adaptive and successful. Individual change management requires understanding how people experience change and what they need in order to change successfully. It also requires knowing just how to help them make the transition. What messages do people need to hear? When should they be sent, and who should they come from? When is the optimal time to teach someone a new skill? How do you coach people to demonstrate new behaviours?
William Bridges developed a model that reviews the emotional impact of change over time and the leader’s role. He describes the difference between change and transition. He admits that change is situational and will happen without the people, whereas transition deals with the psychological impact on the people. The leaders’ skills in communication, listening and coaching will be pivotal in identifying how to support the staff, both as individuals and as a group, so they can move through the phases as quickly and effectively as possible.
Best practices provide a starting point for understanding the fundamental concepts of leading people through change. The mission is to enable the organization and individuals to build their own change management capabilities through the uncovering of best practices which help the leader become better at leading change.
By research, it is identified that certain key sponsor roles are required relative to the success of a change project or initiative led by the leader. That is, having the right leadership and buy-in from the executive team is critical to unifying the organization behind a common strategic direction.
Again, all leaders must equally be equipped to coach their direct reports toward commitment and improving employees’ understanding of the change. Furthermore, increasing communication between management and employees, the identification and mitigating of any inherent risk will enhance employee satisfaction as well as boost their trust for management. So, importantly, the leader’s role in leading change is noted to centre around:
Participating visibly throughout the project
Leadership must give support to the team through the proactive removal of all obstacles which could affect the change and its management. There must be provision of resources and a controlled budget to support the change.
Championing the change
It is the expectation that all change leaders will own the change and actively support the change management work, methodology and practices. They must equally be seen to participate in change activities and messages through building excitement and enthusiasm for the change project. And as the leader, he or she must be the first adopter of every decision or outcome.
Communicating Support and promoting the change-impacted groups
Leadership communicates the end vision, creates awareness about the specifics, timelines and need for change. They advocate the change to impact groups that might be resistant. Vocally, leaders support the change; clearly and succinctly addressing “what’s in it for me?” question for employees.
Building a coalition of Sponsors
Through a series of engagements across the organization, leaders create, work and maintain a network of change agents. They encourage senior leaders to participate and support the change, and ensure they cultivate management support for the project through the clarification of roles and establishment of expectations with mid-level and frontline managers.
Leaders communicate intended messages on progress of change and feedback to support the change process. The complexities of change efforts drive leaders to establish multiple communication channels to allow open feedback, as well as encouraging clear, consistent communication between all teams. Centralizing communication to coordinate and unify messages, delivering simultaneous communications to all locations, and using the most effective communication channels seem very much appropriate to strengthen the change’s course.
Adapting change plans and approach
The leader allocates specific budget and time resources to allow adequate training of employees pursuant to the change agenda. He adopts different strategic approaches to meet the change project KPIs, with key regularly scheduled meetings to share successes of one outpost with the entire team and promptly address concerns from all locations. If need be, the leader establishes separate sponsors or key agents of change based on team groupings to advance the course.
Investing in and using current technological tools such as social media, webinars, online learning tools, teleconferencing and virtual collaborations emboldens leadership efforts to effect great change. The impacts of technology on change ensures smooth and effective impact assessment and analysis. The change benefits at the organizational level through technology builds stronger relationships and team cohesiveness even as prompt feedbacks are assured.
In summary, let me emphasise that managing change is tough, but part of the problem is there’s little agreement on what factors most influence transformational initiatives and change. For change to work, there has to be sufficient dissatisfaction with the old way of doing things and confidence that the new approach will be better, and that there is a clear route to get there.
Discovery…Thinking solutions, shaping visions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The writer is the CEO and Strategic Partner of AQUABEV Investment and Discovery Consulting Group. He is an Executive Director and the Lead Coach in Leadership Development and best Business Management practices for Discovery Leadership Masterclass.
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