Change is inevitable in any organization. To stay competitive, companies must respond to evolving technologies, consumer expectations, employee needs, and innovation in the marketplace. In some cases, leadership will need to adapt processes, update policies, or redirect employee activities. Effective leadership during times of change will help ensure that the organization stays on track to meet its goals.
Leaders must hone these five essential behaviors in order to effectively lead change.
1. Inspire others
Many leaders are great at motivating themselves, but not all of them excel at inspiring others. During times of change, it’s normal for employees to fear the unknown and resist modifying their own behaviors. Effective leaders are able to predict employee concerns, address them before they arise, and help employees successfully navigate the path toward the new future.
To do this, leaders must have a clear and compelling vision for that future and be able to convey to employees how the change benefits both them and the organization. Inspiring others to get on board with the coming changes sets the stage for a successful initiative of any scale. Without this key skill, change initiatives have a tendency to fade away before they get started in earnest. Start with a clear vision and get people excited about it before anything starts to change.
2. Cascade the strategic plan
When employees understand why the change is happening, they next want to know how it will happen. Specifically, they want to know how their role will change and what changes they will need to make individually, both in terms of the big picture and the daily workflow. Clearly defining the end goal, the path to get to it, and individual roles and responsibilities is critical for leading a successful change initiative.
Leaders must have absolute clarity on the defined strategy in order to appropriately and fully address the questions that will be posed by their employees. Be prepared with information about individual and team responsibilities, timelines, and what specifically will and will not change.
3. Communicate effectively
Inspiring others and sharing the strategic plan both depend heavily on effective communication, which includes conveying information early, clearly, and frequently. In fact, according to a Robert Half survey, 65 percent of company managers believe that clear and frequent communication with employees was the most important factor in leading change. Effective communication depends on a multi-pronged approach. People don’t fully absorb everything they hear the first time they hear it. It takes repeating the messaging frequently and in different ways for it to fully sink in and be integrated into their habits and behaviors.
Effective change leaders share information in multiple ways—through written memos, team meetings, town hall discussions, and more. Bidirectional communication is also important. Employees want to be able to ask questions, feel heard, and believe that their feedback matters. Learning how to elicit feedback from others and to really listen to that feedback is a critical skill for change leaders to obtain.
4. Provide consistent support
Effective leaders understand that they can’t just dictate a change initiative and expect employees to implement it without support. You must remember that although they may have been preparing for change for a certain period of time, employees need time and support to implement new behaviors and processes.
Providing ongoing coaching, training, and resources to support the change is necessary for helping employees navigate the new path. This requires being available to answer questions, provide feedback, and address the roadblocks that arise throughout the process. Leaders must be prepared to keep the big picture in mind while they zoom in to help address all the challenges that arise during times of change. As a result of this involvement, the tactical plan can continue to be optimized as new information comes to light.
5. Sustain commitment long-term
Successful change requires stamina. Leaders must continue to motivate employees to keep pace with the changes that are occurring. Continue to communicate about the reasons for the change and reiterate the benefits that will result from it. Report back about the metrics you are tracking so employees can see how they are able to make an impact. Celebrate successes to reinvigorate employees and inspire them to continue moving forward on the path that has been laid out. All of this requires sustained effort from leadership.
Be prepared for change
Change will happen in an organization whether you plan for it or not. Effective leaders recognize the need for change, make a plan for executing it in an intentional way, motivate others to participate fully, and continually provide support through consistent and clear communication. When these five behaviors are adopted by leaders, it is entirely possible to effectively lead change at every level.
The next time you are planning an organizational change initiative, identify which of these skills could be strengthened and make the investment in leadership training to help ensure success. For more tips on how to successfully guide your organization through a transition, read A Practical Guide to Leading Change.