Organizational change is inevitable. According to research by Gartner, a typical organization today has undertaken at least five major organizational changes in the past three years. During times of change, effective leadership is especially critical to organizational success. Every organization needs leaders who can successfully navigate the waters of change.
Whether change is driven by shifts in customer demands, increased competition, or the introduction of new technology, organizations must be able to upgrade or re-engineer processes and ensure employees adapt and grow to meet organizational needs. People are at the heart of any effort to bring about organizational change, and they require strong leaders who, through their actions and words, can set the tone for how employees should approach change. Here are four ways to provide strong leadership in times of change:
Set and Communicate the Vision
Whether dealing with one significant change or a climate of continuous change, it’s important to establish and communicate a vision early. The vision for change helps employees understand why change is occurring, what the desired end result is, and how the organization will look once change has been achieved. When people understand the vision, there’s a greater chance of allaying the anxieties they may have about how change will affect them. But establishing the vision doesn’t stop with the initial communication; the vision must then be communicated often, and in different forums, so that employees have many chances to encounter and connect with it.
Model Expected Behaviors
An IBM study found that the top factor reported by organizations for successfully leading change was having leaders who act as role models and communicate the case for change. When leaders model desired behaviors, they show how to develop a positive attitude about change and approach it with confidence. Leaders can model expected behaviors by:
- Asking thoughtful questions when unclear about how change will impact certain processes
- Sharing advice and insights with the team about what they’ve learned when undergoing certain kinds of change
- Displaying a healthy sense of humor, which helps others feel encouraged rather than discouraged
- Showing a willingness to try new things and adjust processes to accommodate organizational change
Strong leaders are able to support employees who are dealing with fear, confusion, or resistance to change. In fact, when individuals feel supported by their leaders and see that they’re not alone or ignored, they become more receptive to change. Leaders can support employees by:
- Regularly sharing information about the status, timeline, and impact of change on people and key processes
- Showing empathy and expressing a desire to understand how change affects each of the people on their team
- Providing opportunities for employees to share their frustrations, concerns, and successes in dealing with change
- Providing employees with learning opportunities to adjust their mindset and acquire new skills for managing change
Leaders can encourage positive behavior and a healthy attitude about change by recognizing behaviors that demonstrate support of change. There are a variety of ways to recognize employees, including via email, in team meetings, and one on one. During times of change, it can be easy to get caught up in ever-changing activities and processes, but recognizing and celebrating successes along the way helps everyone see the progress made. In addition, by recognizing employee actions taken in support of the change or changes that are occurring, leaders reinforce positive behaviors and show others what they can do to be recognized and rewarded.
To lead change successfully, leaders must communicate the vision for and details of change early and often and show through their actions how to approach change. When leaders remain a constant source of information and support, employees don’t just understand the vision for change; they embrace it.