Every organization needs change leaders. These people believe in the need for change, commit to adopting the required activities, and have the knowledge and skills to support and guide others through the process.
The changes facing most organizations are too complex and the pace of change too fast to be driven only from the top and managed by a few specialists. It would help if you had leaders at every level with sufficient knowledge, skill, and capability to lead and manage change effectively. Here are seven ways to create effective change leadership throughout your organization:
1. Adopt a readiness mindset. Many unwittingly adopt a resistance mindset — the belief that human beings naturally resist change. Leaders with a resistance mindset equate employee reactions to change with resistance and grow frustrated when employees question or balk at change. A readiness mindset interprets these reactions not as a sign of resistance but as a sign that people are not ready. It is characterized by the belief that people will move toward something new and different when they understand the need and feel prepared, capable, and supported. Adopting a readiness mindset allows you to engage with curiosity to seek feedback, prepare, and guide people through the change process.
2. Demonstrate empathy and implement change from the perspective of the change recipients. Empathy is the ability to see the world from a different perspective. When you practice empathy, you can recognize two essential factors. The first is that the initiator of any change starts their transition before others in the organization. The second factor is that every organizational change involves risk. A change that may appear low-risk and easy at the executive level may, at the frontline level, be complex and perceived as riskier. Successful change leaders strive to understand the perspectives of those who will be doing the heavy lifting.
3. Create time and space within your operational environment for people to engage with and adopt the new activities and behaviors. Few companies have the luxury of shutting down business while implementing a change. And the day-to-day activities that keep a business running almost always take priority over those required for change. Therefore, you need to create time and space for people to unlearn old actions and behaviors, learn new ways of working, and embed the latest activities and behaviors into their daily operations.
4. Actively involve the people who will do the heavy lifting in the design and planning of the change. It always surprises me when leaders say they don’t have time to involve everyone in a change process. Involvement is not optional. To think otherwise would be like believing you could get fit by someone else working out! A 2017 McKinsey study found that only 3% of organizational change efforts were successful when managers and frontline employees were not involved. Active involvement does not mean everyone is involved in every decision. However, you can create structures to help you actively involve people at the right level and at the right time.
5. Create a straightforward, concise, and concrete outcome story. Stories drive our decisions and actions. You need reliable, accurate qualitative and quantitative data to decide whether to initiate a change. However, facts and goals are not enough. Creating healthy and sustainable change requires people to connect emotionally and intellectually with a shared story about why the change is necessary and what the outcome will look like. Create a shared outcome story that describes the look, feel, behaviors, and activities of your organization/department after the change has been successfully adopted. Doing so decreases stress and uncertainty and makes it easier for people to let go of their current state and move toward something new. A shared story of your intended outcome helps everyone make better decisions and expands your organization’s intellectual capability.
6. Apply holistic systems thinking. Every organizational change creates ripples or, as one client described it, a tsunami in your organization. Failure to recognize interconnections and treating each change initiative as an isolated event contributes to change fatigue. However, when you identify and plan based on these interconnections, you can leverage collateral change — achieving strategic or desired outcomes within existing rather than new initiatives or projects. It also reduces the risk of burnout and change fatigue.
7. Demonstrate curiosity, compassion, and commitment. Be curious about what you see and hear, including having self-awareness of your reactions. Then practice self-compassion as you navigate your journey and help support others through the change.
To be an effective change leader, you must commit to the whole journey. Achieving real change that sticks takes time. You need the energy and stamina to continue until the intended outcome has been achieved and the new activities have become routine.