Often, when people get a whiff of change, a range of reactions takes place, not all of which are particularly positive. Change of any magnitude will affect the people, processes and culture currently in place, regardless of the scale of the change. Therefore, employees typically view organizational change as disruptive, unwelcomed, uncertain and stressful. What we must understand is that it is in everyone’s best interest to shift this mindset. It is not a matter of if change is going to happen, but when. What you need when that time comes is a workforce that is receptive, resilient and quick to embrace change.
Whether the change affects the culture, the people or a process, an initiative’s best chance for success is having everyone in a leadership position – from members of the C-suite to the supervisors on the front line – actively committed to achieving the desired result. Change leaders are simply not on the same playing field as change managers. While change managers administer change, change leaders command, influence and advocate for it.
There are five things change leaders must do during times of change and transformation to shift the mindset of employees and guarantee its success:
1. Harness the Power of Vision.
Change leaders address the current reality and the dissatisfaction with it. They share the foreseen outcome and benefits associated with the change so that their employees have a clear picture and understanding of where the organization currently is, where it’s going and why it’s going in that direction. This clarity will significantly help when the time comes to share how the change will affect short- and long-term goals and employees’ areas of focus. By harnessing the power of vision, leaders engage stakeholders’ intellect and emotions. Keep in mind that people are the hands that make the change happen, so their emotions toward it matter and need to be properly cared for.
2. Define Expectations.
While sharing the vision is critical, it will inevitably leave employees thinking, “But how does this affect me?” While change leaders are still working to solidify employee buy-in, it is essential to ensure employees understand what is required, how those requirements are different from their current reality and when the change will happen. On the individual level, it may affect areas such as objectives, organizational structure, compensation or competencies. During transitional times, you can eliminate the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios that cause individuals agitation and anxiety by giving them the clarity they crave.
Change leaders understand the power of communication during times of change and optimize how, what and when they communicate to maximize the impact of what they are saying. Their communication is timely, gives relevant information and ensures mutual understanding. Communication cannot be one-way. Leaders should encourage honest and open two-way communication throughout the entire process. By doing so, employees’ concerns and feedback will be heard, and leaders will gain a better sense of what’s working and what is not, as well as employees’ feelings about the change.
4. Optimize the Impact.
Change leaders are active in the face of change. Because they are invested in the outcome, they effectively identify the priorities that will remain the same, the new priorities and how the two fit together. While it is important for leaders to understand and communicate the implications at the individual level, they must also keep an eye on the bigger picture. It will be up to them to shift, eliminate and add priorities as the process continues and ensure the road to success is clear.
5. Sustain the Energy.
Change is most often not an overnight occurrence. It takes time to come to fruition and see the benefits. Change leadership means motivating employees to keep up everything they are doing and maintain momentum, especially if it’s a long-term initiative. This can be done by celebrating successes, creating milestones, repeating the rationale and measuring progress. All of these activities builds excitement for when the organization achieves those outcomes that were established at the beginning.
Change leadership is not necessarily doing something different, but it is doing it better. It’s leading, not just managing, employees through the waters of change. Change is going to happen, and when it does, these five strategies will solidify employee commitment to the change initiative, increase engagement and productivity, and inspire a focused organizational effort to bring the change initiative to completion.