The need to effectively lead change affects every organization. With the introduction of new technology and changes in customer demand, organizations must continually redirect employee activities and re-engineer key processes to navigate the waters of change. Although it may not be so difficult to recognize that change is coming—or that it has already arrived—effectively leading the workforce through change remains a challenge for many organizations. It is one of the reasons why only a little more than half of change management initiatives accomplish their intended goal, according to research conducted by PwC.1
Whether change occurs as a result of organizational initiatives, a merger or acquisition, evolving market conditions, or a leadership transition, it is not about whether or even when change will occur, but how long-lasting and disruptive the change will be. For organizations everywhere, change is inevitable and constant in today’s age. Therefore, it is necessary to effectively and consistently lead change, not only for survival, but for growth.
Change Is a Requirement for Survival
The degree to which an organization can lead and manage change effectively is critical to organizational continuity. Across a range of industries, disruptive change and the rise of new players and markets has already impacted the survival of “blue-chip” stalwarts, as well as retailers and others. These days, even organizations that have in the past been praised for their longevity and consistency struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of change that threatens their survival.
Companies that pursue and embrace change are far better able to evolve and grow, while those that do not are at risk of stagnation or even extinction. As evidence of this reality, one study found that industry change, mergers and acquisitions activity, and disruptive startups will shorten the average lifecycle of an S&P 500 company from 24 years to just 12 years by 2027.2 Without the ability to effectively lead change, a company could fail to see the next decade.
Change Spurs Innovation and Competitiveness
In the digital age, when new industries are being created and new competitors are challenging old ways of doing business, organizations in every sector must be willing to challenge the status quo and potentially change their strategy and tactics in many cases, both—to gain a competitive edge. To meet ever-evolving customer needs and expectations, organizations must innovate and find more and more new ways to meet those needs. In fact, research shows that those who successfully lead change and innovate have a greater chance of outperforming their peers. According to a Towers Watson study, companies with high effectiveness in change management and communication are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas.3 For most, effectively leading change equates to a thriving and competitive organization.
Often, when leaders think about changes to their team or across the organization, it is in regard to implementing a new strategy and how they will get to the desired outcome through new processes and tools. However, there is a critical factor that is often an afterthought, particularly when the change is not going as planned.
It is the employees in your organization who will execute the new strategy in their day-to-day work life. They will be the ones to personally experience the disruption and frustrations that times of change inevitably bring. Therefore, it is critical to consider them as you think about the new tools and processes that will be implemented to make the strategy happen. In other words, you must account for your people. People, processes, and tools are three equal elements that must be included as you build out your change strategy.
"It is the employees in your organization who will execute the new strategy in their day-to-day work life."
Given the importance of effective change management to organizational survival and competitiveness, it is necessary to help employees develop the optimal mindset and behaviors for dealing with the change. The responsibility of ensuring employees are on board falls to your organizational leaders. Strong company leaders not only guide the organization through change and ensure new processes and tools are incorporated into daily workflows, but they instill in employees the belief that they can successfully embrace the changes being asked of them—and the desire to do so.
In conjunction with strong leadership, managing change is best accomplished with a deliberate, structured approach. Be mindful of the proven key success factors for leading change to ensure your change initiative drives to completion.
No matter the type or scope of the change you are leading, here are five essential behaviors and skills that the very best change leaders have and use to ensure success.
One key factor in the success or failure of any change initiative is the ability of the person who is leading the change to inspire others to support change, rather than resist or fear it. Those who are successful change leaders anticipate, understand, and address employee concerns. Additionally, they can clearly articulate why change is necessary, the benefits of changing, and how it will affect people and their work.
To obtain the necessary buy-in and support for change, leaders need to cast a compelling vision. The vision must describe what the future state will look like, why the future is better than today, and the benefits of changing. The picture you paint needs to be so vivid that everyone sees what you see for the future and is left wanting to do their part to achieve that vision.
A clear vision helps to ensure not only that everyone involved understands the benefits of changing, but that they feel a part of it and are on board with the changes that will need to happen. As one study found, employees will benefit from understanding not only what will change, but also what will not change. Researchers have found that company leaders are more effective in building support for change the more they communicate a vision that includes clarity about what will change and what will stay the same.4 When individuals can clearly see the difference between the two, they are less likely to experience anxiety and resistance to change.
Defining the Strategic Plan
Once employees see the vision for the change initiative, the next question they will have is “What is my role in making the vision a reality?” People may understand the vision, but they can only connect with it if they clearly see the impacts it will have on their everyday lives. Therefore, as the one leading the change, you must have a clearly defined strategy so everyone involved understands how team and individual accountabilities will be impacted by the change and how these changes all come together to accomplish the goal. Leaders will need to bring the vision for change alive with a strategic plan that defines expectations so individuals are able to see who will be responsible for what, the timeline that will guide the change, and a roadmap for key processes that will be impacted along the way. This way, individuals can begin to see the big-picture implications of change and what it will look like for them and their team.
The need for and benefits of changing must be communicated early, clearly, and often. In the words of Phil Geldart, CEO and founder of Eagle’s Flight and author of In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World-Class Leader, “The earlier the information is communicated, with as much detail as possible, the better the change will be accommodated by those affected. The greater the detail, the more effective the communication.”5 People are likely to remember and connect with messages they hear frequently. In a survey conducted by Robert Half, 65 percent of company managers said that clear and frequent communication with employees was the most important factor in leading change.6 The more employees hear about the change, the more likely they will be to pay attention and engage with it. It is also important to communicate about the change in various settings, such as team meetings, town hall discussions, and one-on-one meetings.
Communication must also be bidirectional. Employees must feel that they can ask questions and give feedback on the change that is taking place. As the one leading the change, you must find different opportunities to solicit questions and feedback because all employees will not feel comfortable giving feedback in all situations. Creating a safe space is critical to receiving true and insightful feedback.
As change gets underway, individuals will need support, coaching, and assistance in navigating the day-to-day implications and obstacles of change. To ensure success, leaders need to be present and available to support their employees on a micro-level, such as identifying which tasks will remain the same as before and which will be discontinued, delegated, or automated. As new responsibilities are added and others change in scope, new ideas and procedures will come to light. Leaders can optimize the impact of change by working with employees on an ongoing basis to address suggestions and ideas related to process and workflow improvements to optimize the tactical plan for achieving the strategy.
Ability to Sustain Energy Long-Term
Successful change leadership requires continually motivating employees to keep pace with the process modifications and other adjustments that impact their roles. Sustainable change is a marathon, not a sprint, particularly when it comes to long-term change initiatives, and you want to avoid having to backtrack on the progress you have already made. To sustain the energy around a change initiative, leaders can celebrate successes and important milestones and routinely repeat the rationale for change so that it remains top of mind.
Employees will also appreciate hearing any data and metrics you can provide that clearly show the progress that is being made. Some organizations may even find periodic surveys useful to gauge employee mindset about the changes that have occurred and their commitment going forward. Without investing the time to keep the momentum going, your change initiative will be at risk of fizzling out and becoming the dreaded “flavor of the month.”
The goal of any leadership development program is to provide the tools and know-how to release the full potential in individuals and their teams. Great leaders motivate others to perform at their best and are equipped with the skills to lead during times of growth, uncertainty, or transition. Building leadership competencies, along with providing focused training on how to tactically lead change, ensures you have a bench of change-ready leaders who have the knowledge, skills, and tools to capitalize on the opportunities that may appear during transitional times.
At Eagle’s Flight, with more than 30 years of experience, an extensive content library, and a truly world-class team, we’ve been able to partner with organizations of all sizes, industries, and needs, to make their leaders change-ready. With Eagle’s Flight as your partner, the road to leadership development is crafted with your input and is perfectly suited to your needs and corporate uniqueness. From building a single leadership competency to rolling out leadership development throughout your organization, we have the tools to make it happen and ensure everyone is set up for success.
The Eagle’s Flight Approach to Leadership Development
SPECIFIC COMPETENCY DEVELOPMENT
Many organizations are looking to build specific competencies, from time management to effective communication and leading through times of change. Eagle’s Flight’s robust content library is your solution. In as little as a day, we can deliver a program that pinpoints the competencies you need to build.
SPECIFIC LEVEL DEVELOPMENT
If your organization needs a holistic leadership development program for a specific level of leaders, Eagle’s Flight has a suite of leadership programs designed to maximize the impact of individual contributors, frontline managers, and senior leaders. The content selection in each program is developed based on years of experience working with organizations to build leadership competencies in three diverse levels of the organization.
TOP-TO-BOTTOM LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
There are many reasons an organization may choose to offer leadership development. From building a leadership pipeline to establishing a common language and alignment to reducing turnover by investing in the progress and development of their people, the benefits are countless. Eagle’s Flight Journey of Leadership™ is a tiered approach that builds leadership competencies across an entire organization. Our three programs fully integrate and build on each other to cultivate a culture of leadership excellence.
YOUR UNIQUE TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT NEED
We are eager to create a leadership program to meet your organization’s specific goals, whatever they may be. Our ability to integrate business relevance, corporate uniqueness, and pragmatic content across a wide range of organizational needs has been key to our clients’ success. Whether it is building a single competency or creating a culture of leadership excellence across an entire organization, we have the content, tools, and expertise to ensure your leadership development is a success.
Change may be the name of the game in today’s world, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. You’re not alone. As your trusted partner, Eagle’s Flight will put our 30+ years of experience to work for you. Contact us to learn more about our dynamic change management and leadership solutions.
PWC Strategy&. “Culture’s Role in Enabling Organizational Change. 2013. https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/media/file/Strategyand_Cultures-Role-in-Enabling-Organizational-Change.pdf.
Anthony, Scott D., et al. “2018 Corporate Longevity Forecast: Creative Destruction is Accelerating.” Innosight. Accessed November 2018. https://www.innosight.com/insight/creative-destruction/.
Towers Watson. “2013 – 2014 Change and Communication ROI Study. The 10th Anniversary Report.” December 2013. https://www.towerswatson.com/en-US/Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-Results/2013/12/2013-2014-change-and-communication-roi-study.
Venus, Merlijn, et al. “Research: To Get People to Embrace Change, Emphasize What Will Stay the Same.” Harvard Business Review. August 15, 2018. https://hbr.org/2018/08/research-to-get-people-to-embrace-change-emphasize-what-will-stay-the-same.
Geldart, Phil. “In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World-Class Leader.” Eagle’s Flight. 2000. http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/109601/file-580820012-pdf/downloads/Books/IYH/Eagles_Flight_eBook_-_In_Your_Hands_the_Behaviors_of_a_World_Class_Leader_-_0314.pdf?t=1394648001000.
Robert Half Management Resources. “Where Change Management Fails.” February 3, 2016. http://rh-us.mediaroom.com/2016-02-03-Where-Change-Management-Fail