Change is hard for everyone, even on a small scale. It can be especially difficult to achieve change in the workplace, where people are naturally resistant to disruption and having to incorporate new behaviors into their already busy days. However, with a solid plan and skilled execution, it’s possible to successfully lead change and realize the results you envision.
When leading change of any kind or scope, here are five essential skills and behaviors that effective leaders use to ensure success.
1. Inspiring a shared vision
Before people are willing to change, they need to understand why the change needs to occur. Leaders who can paint a clear picture of what the future will be like after the desired change are more likely to motivate people to embrace those changes. Sharing a compelling vision helps generate buy-in and create champions who share the same vision. Whether the vision is as simple as a streamlined system for gathering time sheets or as grand as an organizational restructuring, leadership must share the reasons behind it and generate excitement about what the results will be after the change.
2. Defining the strategic plan
In addition to understanding the reasons behind the change, employees also want to know how it’s going to happen and how they will be affected. Lay out the path from start to finish and identify milestones along the way. Create a realistic timeline for these milestones and define the steps necessary to reach each one. The plan should also include roles and responsibilities so that every individual can clearly see what they will be accountable for and how they fit into the overall vision. Defining this strategic plan will let people know what they can expect and when so that incremental changes are not surprises, but expected events for which people are prepared.
3. Communicating the plan clearly and often
Effective communication is key during times of change. It starts with sharing the vision and the strategic plan, but it doesn’t stop there. Communication about the change must happen consistently and frequently in order for it to sink in over time. Share information in a range of settings, including via email, in staff meetings, and in one-on-one interactions. Provide as much detail as possible and try to anticipate the questions that will be asked so you can be prepared with answers. Create opportunities for people to provide feedback, ask questions in a safe setting, and share responses with everybody. The more frequently and effectively leaders communicate throughout the change process, the smoother it will go.
4. Providing consistent support
Unexpected issues will always come up when implementing change, and it’s important to provide support when these issues arise. This support might include ongoing training to teach new skills and behaviors, weekly check-ins to identify areas where employees need help, or actively soliciting feedback to pinpoint problems and solutions. Simply being available (and making sure employees know you are available) is one of the most effective ways leaders can provide support during times of change.
5. Sustaining the energy long-term
It’s not uncommon for change initiatives to lose momentum and fade away, which is something you do not want to happen after you have made an investment of time, money, and resources. When you create the strategic plan, accommodate for this tendency by building in ways to re-energize the team and maintain momentum. This might include scheduling a staff retreat during which you check in on the changes that are happening, or celebrating when milestones are achieved to help motivate the team for the next phase. The key is to plan for these events when you create your strategy so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle of daily operations.