Coping with change from a leadership perspective
Change is an inevitable part of growth for any business. As organizations take steps forward, certain aspects of what they do will improve, while others remain constant or slip back.
Currently, we are experiencing a period of growth unprecedented in human history, labeled as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum describes this time as “a new chapter for human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second, and third industrial revolutions.”
In light of this shift, change management is becoming an increasingly popular area of research and is now recognized as a formal vocation. The discipline aims to help organizations successfully navigate current advancements in technology and knowledge.
Here, we present the main goals of change management and suggest how organization leaders can use the underpinning theories to guide their employees through times of change. We will also explore the role of learning and development in the process.
Change management: an overview
According to online learning provider MindTools, change management is a structured approach for ensuring that management teams thoroughly and smoothly implement changes and that they achieve the lasting benefits of change.
From a simple change to an organization’s systems to alterations in policy or strategy, change management can help organizations maximize their potential and limit the damage change can inflict.
McKinsey & Company found that “70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.” Change managers aim to increase the chances of new initiatives sticking by ensuring employees are supportive of the process. Paying attention to the employee experience makes it 30% more likely for organizations to successfully implement new strategies.
Supporting employees to cope with change
1. Clear communication
Communicating changes to employees, no matter how small, can make a significant difference to how that change is received. If employees are kept in the loop and know what to expect, they are far more likely to support each other and those in leadership to make the changes necessary.
Jay Tankersley at Vital Learning emphasizes that it is critical to communicate the following aspects of change to team members:
- The nature of the change
- The reason why the change is being made
- The timeline for the change
- The direct effect the change has on your team
- The impact the change has on individuals’ daily work
With these pillars of communication in place, organization leaders are far more likely to see employees invested in the changes they make to strategy, with buy-in being a critical element to the success of any new initiative.
2. Managing expectations
When an organization goes through a period of change, employees will form expectations along the way. If their roles and responsibilities are going to alter, being as transparent as possible is vital. Elizabeth Baskin, CEO at Tribe, Inc., explains that while transparency is essential during times of change, it isn’t always appropriate to be completely open with employees and that they understand this.
The best outcome is to be as honest as possible, without revealing sensitive information. Baskin adds that as long as management teams give employees an idea of what to expect and information they can and can’t have access to, they are far more likely to accept the difficult decisions.
3. Accept limitations
While productivity may slow initially during times of change, this will bounce back as employees grow accustomed to new situations and requirements. Research shows that re-organizing workplaces has a significant impact on productivity in the long term. If those in leadership accept this initial downturn, the rewards will come over time. Although progress may be slow at times, it is essential to avoid looking for individuals to blame or single out.
Uncertainty can also add to stress and tension, creating undue conflict between team members. While a certain level of anxiety is a necessary part of growth and development, if this reaches an unhealthy level, managers can support employees with stress management techniques.
4. Focus on learning and development
As an organization moves forward in a new direction, employees will likely have to adapt and learn new skills to contribute to the process.
An effective way to improve productivity during times of change is to engage employees through learning. Will they need to learn new skills as their roles and responsibilities change?
From a management perspective, those in leadership can also use this time to identify skills gaps across the organization and seek to address these through learning initiatives. Are there gaps in employee knowledge that leadership teams need to cover? Will equipping employees with these new skills help the management team to execute on their new strategy? Asking these questions will help those in leadership to take full advantage of learning opportunities as they arise.
5. Support employees to become autonomous
As a preventative measure, before a change occurs, it can be helpful to support employees in becoming more autonomous. Developing this quality requires trust on the part of management, which is built over time as teams get to know each other and learn how to work together.
For example, in a strategy meeting, the management team might identify that the organization is falling short of their targets in a particular area. When those in leadership communicate this to employees, they are far more likely to reach solutions independently if they have the confidence to work autonomously. Offering professional development in skills such as creativity, problem-solving, and design thinking can all help employees to take the lead as their organization develops.
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