Want to Successfully Lead Change? Here's How.

Updated: Mar 7


It’s the start of a new year and there’s a lot of talk about change. Many of us are considering personal change by way of resolutions, leaders and teams want change for their work, and organizations are making shifts in strategy. The start of a new year gives us a sense of leaving the past behind and focusing on the future.


If we are the creator of change, it is exciting. We are optimistic, we see openings for success, and there is no buying into a change we initiate, we are already bought in.


If we are seeking others to change and adopt our new ideas, it is a much different story. What we find exciting, and hopeful or even just a responsibility we uphold (as a leader) may feel daunting, threatening, or simply unwanted by others.


Leading change is one of the most important competencies for leaders and it’s also one of the hardest to master.


That’s why this week we’re focusing on what it takes to lead a successful organizational change.


Understand Disruption and Plan for It

What makes change leadership successful?


It means to achieve the goals of the initiative with as little disruption as possible to operations and productivity. That’s it.


Let’s say your company rolls out a new piece of software. It presents a big change because not only do employees have to learn how to use a new system, but they must learn to interact and sell to customers differently. A goal of the rollout might be to implement on a certain date, say July 1.


If the system implements on July 1st were the leaders successful in leading this change?


Not necessarily.


Let’s talk about what happened during that implementation. The new system often crashed and left employees and customers waiting for pages to reload. The July 1st rollout was supported by executives but not by employees. It competed with other work priorities that resulted in limited time for staff to learn the system. This reinforced a feeling of executives not listening to or caring about staff and morale took a nosedive during this time. Teams weren’t motivated and everyone fell further behind in their work.


This system implementation created what every change initiative creates: disruption. Both technical disruption and human disruption. To meet an implementation goal isn’t enough. The level of disruption that takes place is really what matters.


Most organizations are sufficient at planning for technical issues like downtime, errors, or missed steps in a process. Systems are tested before rollout, Help Desks are launched, and procedures are documented.


What is often missed is planning for human disruption. This looks like people complaining about the system or the team that implemented it, venting to colleagues, or failing to perform. Productivity takes just as big of a hit with human disruption as it does with technical, though organizations are often less prepared.


Successful change leadership is about minimizing disruption. Planning for it from a technical and human perspective will make the success of the change more likely.


Leverage an Integrated Approach

Leading Change requires an integrated approach, a plan for both operations and people. The operational plan will include strategies for minimizing technical disruption. Again, many organizations plan well for this.

But what about planning for the impact the change will have on people? This plan intercepts human disruption.


The best way to do this is to use a methodology. ADKAR by Prosi (www.prosci.com) is a simple model of five outcomes needed for successful change. It is a proven methodology that is easy to follow with free resources widely available. Each component stands for the following:

  • A – Awareness: Recognition of the need for change as well as what is changing.

  • D – Desire: Personal motivation to support the change.

  • K – Knowledge: Understanding of the skills and behaviors required during and after the change.

  • A – Ability: Demonstrated competence to perform the skills and behaviors required during and after the change.

  • R – Reinforcement: Implementing the necessary mechanisms so that the new way stays in place.

There are a host of activities that can be designed to foster the development of each of these outcomes. They look like focus groups, newsletters, design meetings, one-on-one discussions, feedback sessions, training programs, town hall meetings, training programs, panel discussions, or brown-bag lunch sessions. The point is that a robust plan is created with this methodology as a guide, and it is implemented alongside the operational plan.


Dedicate the People Resources Required

One of the biggest gaps in change implementation is a lack of resources dedicated to leading people through change – specifically the human resources needed. Again, organizations may be good at dedicating the operational resources and capital to change, but don’t always dedicate the people and time needed. In these situations, human disruption compromises success.


Nearly every change needs a dedicated, cross-functional team that is responsible for helping design the proposed solution, identify pockets of resistance in the organization, build buy-in, and advocate for the project and the people impacted by the project. This kind of team is often called a Transition Team. Important aspects include:

  • Cross-functional representation. It ensures diverse perspectives are represented.

  • Inclusion of helpful skeptics. Helpful skeptics tend to be effective influencers because they aren’t overly positive or negative.

  • Time allocated for participation on the team. This sends a message that their work is important and valued.

  • Clear expectations set. They are a liaison between those directly impacted by the change and the those initiating it.

Transition teams are an effective tool for not just planning for and handling human disruption, but for helping devise a successful change from the start.


Leading change successfully does not rest on the shoulders of one person. Competent change leaders know this, and they tap a host of individuals to help them lead through it effectively. Change will disrupt. Having a plan for the disruption is what matters, using an integrated approach, and tapping a diverse set of people are the strategies that will foster a successful change.


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Until next time!

 

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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