Leading change is most definitely a skill that not everyone possesses. We know this quite simply by the sheer number of change processes that fail to reach a successful conclusion.
Forbes quotes a rate in the region of 70% for change initiatives failing. This means only around 30% of transformations succeed. So what can companies do to ensure successful change?
Effective Leadership – But what makes it so?
To find out what makes an effective change leader we need to look at the different approaches that change managers take. We also need to look at whether they succeed or fail.
You may have heard of the 3 Cs. Here, we shall focus on a change manager’s ability to follow them effectively and where they fail, if indeed they do.
To be a successful leader you must understand and communicate more than just the ‘what’. Leaders who take the time to explain the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ most definitely fair better. This helps them in gaining stronger buy-in and reducing resistance. Stakeholders need to understand the purpose of the change and its value. In addition, they need to see its connection to the organizations’ values, with benefits and pitfalls explained. Even if they remain unsure, they could value the time and effort to include them. In feeling supported they may therefore be more onboard and cooperative.
Leaders capable of bringing people together to collaborate and cross boundaries are more likely to succeed than those who fail to engage employees early in the process.Effective leaders are able to break boundaries and encourage employees to step out of their comfort zones. They encourage people to accept change and contribute if they are able.
Successful leaders fully embrace and support the changes too. They show resilience and a willingness to step outside of their comfort zone. They are able to focus on the bigger picture and devote time to the change effort. In addition, they understand that to be successful they must adapt to challenges, avoid negativity and look for positives. They also see small steps as a win. As a polar opposite, leaders who express negativity and become impatient over results are far less likely to succeed.
We have demonstrated that a successful change leader must be positive themselves, be able to engage others, make stakeholders understand the need for change and buy into its success for the benefit of the business, or be ruthless and move them on. But what else must they be able to achieve?
Managing Stakeholders And Staff Alike
Interactions between those demanding the project and those expected to adopt it are critical for a happy outcome. Managing stakeholders effectively is the key to successful change on all levels.
Successful change management experts not only use their hard industry knowledge skills, but they must use a range of soft skills to get the best from people, to support them in accepting that change is inevitable. Change management training teaches powerful skills for managing challenges, allowing candidates to galvanize individual resistances, and break down the barriers that often see others fail.
Minimizing Change Fatigue
Change fatigue can easily become a contributory factor to failure, through too many mismanaged changes, so certainly something that effective leaders must avoid repeating. Past failures, lack of attention to fear within personnel, for jobs, and career can lead to demoralization throughout the workforce. This could spread to those not directly affected, which is a highly contagious effect successful leaders must avoid. Fear can paralyze, change perception and affect productivity just when you need the opposite. Therefore, choosing your project leaders, change managers and other key personnel for the project and managing others must involve more than just their business skills. They must be able to deal with the people aspect of change for it to be successful.
How Should You Lead People Through Change?
It is obvious that change managers must understand the formal business processes involved with any change, but that in no way guarantees the success of a project. An effective leader must dedicate even more effort to engaging everyone involved. They should recognize that people need and should be given time to change, irrespective of the time frame you feel you should work too. Leading effective successful change must be a marriage on every level and there are 3 crucial qualities that the most successful change managers can demonstrate.
Employee success is more likely guaranteed when barriers are removed. Leaders should enable them to succeed, supporting their sense of loss and dealing with wounded egos, resistance and disruptive employees in a way that helps them to see the benefits. It is vital that leaders communicate change in ways that workers can clearly understand. It’s also wise to give them time to process and adapt to what is being asked. This will reap far greater reward than a must-do, must happen blanket approach aimed at all. Leaders of successful change are able to focus on people as well as results, to ensure they feel supported to make a change.
Forcing compliance can be extremely damaging to a business. Successful leaders can identify what they require as ‘buy-in’ from the different stakeholders within a change project for a successful outcome to be achieved. They are able to identify ways to approach and communicate at every level with board members, executives, clients and employees. This identification of various approaches and a commitment to drive change is what sets the successful leader apart. Those struggling to bring others on board may avoid the need to showcase expected outcomes, reasons and benefits for the change. Therefore they may find themselves avoiding rather than supporting or swaying some stakeholders, thus leaving huge gaps in commitment to the project, a sure-fire way to failure.
A successful leader never assumes they have all the answers. They will ask lots of questions, gather both formal and informal feedback and be prepared to make continual adjustments throughout the process. Supporting and encouraging participants and adjusting their approach to elicit positive responses is a skill that some change managers lack or are not prepared to give time to. Unsuccessful leaders are likely to have asked fewer questions, or ignored what they were told and did not gather sufficient or accurate information to assist them along the way. If a leader does not give participants time and opportunity to offer answers, they may find the answers they are given do not give the full picture. This could lead to issues with miscommunication.
There is just one final thing to remember when looking to lead change effectively. Change leaders must be resilient in themselves and be able to manage their own mental and physical health through the process. Only then can they guide others to face change sustainably.
Michelle Gillam is a change management consultant, professionally qualified in change management and facilitation skills. She has written extensively in this field over many years and is also a PRINCE2 qualified project manager. She helps people and organizations grow by providing support and guidance for teams to deliver projects and successfully embed
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