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Change Management: Train Your Leaders to Embrace It Before It Happens

What happened the last time you initiated a huge change in your company? Did the change go off without a hitch? Or was there hemming and hawing from employees, communication mishaps by leaders, or even all-out disasters?

Even if your leadership team had undergone change management training to help it navigate the rough seas of change, chances are, you still ran up against some major problems. That’s because change management training is often started too late to make much of a difference during a major change. Here’s the why and how for training leaders for change management ASAP, even if change isn’t right on the horizon:

Get Leaders Prepared for Day One

If you’re roping in your executive team into a change management decision only when a change opportunity has presented itself, that’s too late. Your leadership team hasn’t developed the skills it needs to make the best decisions related to that change—in fact, it might not even know which decisions it needs to make. For example, when contemplating a merger with another company, an executive knows to look at whether or not the merger makes sense from a numbers perspective, and he or she knows to estimate the impact on personnel. But many executives without the necessary change management training wouldn’t necessarily know to weigh whether or not the two companies are a good culture fit as well. Change management training gives your executive team the confidence to enter a time of change knowing how to approach and examine that change from every angle.  

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Train Leaders to Communicate Changes Early and Effectively

The other reason to invest in leadership change management training beforehand is because your executives are going to need to know how to lead their employees through change. And it’s not going to be an easy sell—people don’t like change, plain and simple. We take comfort in our routines, because they’re familiar and accessible. That’s why it’s always a good idea to share big changes with the company as soon as possible, rather than waiting a few months—or even just a few weeks—before making an announcement. It gets your employees comfortable with the change and allows them time to provide feedback. Ultimately, delaying communication about major changes makes employees feel like they’re left reacting to the change, rather than proactively and productively contributing to the change. But if executives are going through change management training while the change is happening, that may delay important company-wide announcements or cause the communications about the change to roll out less smoothly than they could have been (because your leaders haven’t learned all the skills they need related to change management yet).

Include Change Management Training in Leadership Development

Here’s the best way to ensure times of change are smooth sailing: Incorporate change management training into leadership development. When you make change management training a routine part of your leadership development and training initiatives, your leaders won’t be left scrambling when changes need to be made. And remember: Executives aren’t the only ones who need to know how to handle change. Train all your leaders—including lower-level managers—in how to deal with change management to ensure a smooth transition with few disruptions to employee productivity.

Incorporate “Soft Skills” Training

In addition to providing concrete guidelines for navigating through change, solid change management training programs should focus on the soft skills, too. Leaders need to know how to handle communication with aplomb and how to inspire employees during the particularly trying times that change often ushers in. And solid communication skills, for example, aren’t developed overnight; leaders need to be able to practice and refine these skills on the job and through the help of retention programs. That’s another reason why undergoing change management training before a change is a good idea—it gives leaders time to refine their new “soft skills” before they need to really rely on them for the big change moment.

Know the Company’s Baseline to Measure Change

Finally, if you are implementing change management training in response to a specific upcoming change initiative, make sure you know your baseline. For example, has your executive team decided that a culture transformation is in order, due to lackluster sales and low employee morale? Before you undergo such a transformation, know exactly where your company stands, culture-wise, by collecting data, holding focus groups, sending out employee surveys, etc. That way, after you’ve completed the culture change, you’ll be able to more concretely measure its effects. Any change management training program worth its salt will emphasize the importance of knowing where your company currently stands before major changes are initiated.
For what other reasons do you think investing in change management training before change is a smart move?

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Since 1991, John has acquired extensive experience in the design and delivery of a diverse portfolio of programs. In addition to his executive responsibilities as President of Leadership and Learning Events, John is considered a valued partner to many executive teams. His insight and experience enable him to effectively diagnose, design, and implement complex culture change initiatives in a collaborative and engaging manner. Moreover, John’s experience in global implementations allows him to draw from a deep well of history to create unique and customized solutions. John’s passion for developing people makes him a sought after speaker, partner and coach and is evident in the high praise he receives from clients.

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Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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