Change is inevitable. And in order for an organization to grow, develop, and succeed, change is necessary.
Whether it’s a change in processes, products, systems, people, or procedures, it’s natural for questions and concerns to arise among affected individuals. The ability to lead effectively in times of change can make all the difference in the longevity and success of any organization.
What is change management?
Change management is the combination of approaches involved in engaging employees in times of change. While change management aims to make these transitions less of a challenge by identifying and eliminating problems for employees, it is more specifically focused on the tools and mechanisms that make that kind of support possible.
Change management may be used when implementing new technology or adding a new product or service line. While changes like these may seem minor to some, utilizing a strategic change management process means your organization will be ready to help employees prepare, adapt to, and utilize the changes that are put in place.
The change management process
There are a number of models for change management. But one of the most widely accepted step-by-step models for leading through change is John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model detailed below.
- Create a sense of urgency – Help others see the need for change and view it as an opportunity that should be acted upon immediately.
- Build a guiding coalition – Establish a team to effectively lead the change.
- Form a strategic vision and initiatives – Create the vision that will help lead the change and build a strategy around that vision.
- Enlist a volunteer army – Use the people who are already bought-in to help rally others around the effort to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction.
- Enable action by removing barriers – Identify and remove any barriers, such as inefficient processes, to create the freedom necessary for successful change to occur.
- Generate short-term wins – Big wins aren’t the only wins, so track and communicate progress toward the end goal in order to keep employees energized.
- Sustain acceleration – Keep momentum going by pushing harder through each small change until your final vision is a reality.
- Institute change – Promote the connection between the change made and organizational success. Continuing to make this connection clear for employees will enable them to move forward with less concerns about what was and more focus on what is.
Change management vs. change leadership
Change management—and its complement, change leadership—both have critical roles to play in an organization adapting to change. Yet it’s important to distinguish between the two.
Change management is more likely to be associated with small-scale changes. It is a bit more granular in that it is focused on the tools and mechanisms involved in effectively managing change. The goal of change management is to limit the number of problems associated with the present change—essentially keeping things under control while minimizing impact or distractions that may come about because of the change.
On the other hand, change leadership is more often associated with large-scale changes and is about a greater vision. It involves a sense of urgency—a window of opportunity that is coming quickly and can’t be missed.
Change leadership asks employees to embrace a larger change and also empowers them to do so. It’s about working faster and smarter and being more effective. It is more than implementing a technology upgrade—it’s about inspiring people to help realize the larger vision.
The importance of effective leadership when implementing change
Research from McKinsey and Company has shown that 70% of change programs fail to reach their goals, primarily due to employee resistance to change and a lack of support from management.
Effective leadership is absolutely necessary when implementing change. Leaders drive the culture of an organization. In times of change or uncertainty, employees will look to those in leadership roles for answers.
Changes provide leaders the opportunity to strengthen company culture by living out the mission and values they’ve created for their organization. By reinforcing these key components, effective leaders serve as role models and mentors. They continue to build up a team that holds each member accountable for supporting one another through change.
Leadership strategies for positive change
One of the best strategies to bring about positive change in any organization is to create a culture that embraces change to begin with.
When a change is coming, focus on your purpose as an organization, make change-related decisions based upon that purpose, and be sure to communicate how the change ultimately supports your end goals.
Communicating consistently is another strategy for leading teams through positive change. Consistent communication should be focused on the change itself, as well as motivational messages that make employees feel safe and confident about what may happen. If there is no effective communication during change, employees are more likely to make assumptions or seek answers from uninformed sources. This can quickly lead to the spread of misinformation—derailing change management initiatives.
When leaders communicate clearly and consistently, employees are able to model the same positive behaviors. They are more likely to remain more engaged and be supportive of the change. As confidence among employees rises, the chance of negative thoughts or reactions to something new decreases.
3 Steps for effective leadership through change
1. Review the current state of the organization
Leaders may not always be able to identify underlying problems or areas in need of change. Using employee focus groups or TINYpulse can help uncover the next change that will help drive an organization forward.
If more than one problem exists, there may be a need to prioritize what areas to focus on first. This is a critical step and an opportunity to learn more about the organization’s needs so you can explain to employees why the change is necessary.
2. Develop a vision of the future
In order for employees to buy in to change, there has to be a reason for it. What is the end goal? How will this change positively impact the organization in the future?
The answers to these questions should be clearly communicated by leadership so it doesn’t seem as though things are changing without any strategy or larger goal in mind.
3. Implement the change strategically
Once the necessary changes have been identified, leaders can begin developing teams and allocating additional resources to help keep things moving in an orderly manner. This step cannot occur without the previous two.
How to form an effective change leadership team
As discussed in Kotter’s second step, building a coalition is key for any successful change management initiative.
And that starts with an effective change leadership team—one that is empowered to make things happen and to empower and motivate others. This team should include key stakeholders who are able to collaborate, openly provide constructive feedback, and influence others.
Keep in mind that the members of this team will be looked to for answers and will also help make important decisions. These individuals should have a positive attitude in order to keep morale high throughout the change management process and they need to work well together. They should understand the importance of working towards the future vision and need to be prepared to operate with a sense of urgency. Members of the leadership team need to be aligned as well.
Leadership skills for effective change management
Effective leaders possess strong communication skills and understand the importance of two-way communication during any change management initiative. A leader who communicates well is focused on keeping employees informed while also asking for and expecting feedback. This kind of communication gives employees a voice and builds trust.
Great leaders are also great listeners. They are committed to understanding employees during times of change and seeing things from their perspectives. By showing employees they’re listening to feedback, leaders are able to build confidence and trust among their teams.
Speaking of trust: Strong leaders are trustworthy. They’re able to rally people around an idea even in difficult times because their employees trust that they’re making the right decision for the organization. On a related note, they also trust their employees.
Successful leaders trust that they’ve hired the right people. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of their employees and teams. For this reason, successful leaders know how to build the right coalition to carry out a change.
Great leaders also serve. They take the traditional leadership model and turn it upside down, placing employees at the top. Rather than focusing on their position of authority, leaders show humanity and empathy. They express their desire to serve and empower their employees.
The best leaders also know how to motivate people. They recognize that implementing a change is not easy, so they celebrate successes along the way. They thank their employees and understand the importance of recognition.
Leaders who excel are able to see past the day-to-day and look at how changes that are difficult now will positively impact the entire organization over the long term. Equally as important, they can motivate others throughout each step in the change process. They provide the encouragement necessary by always pointing back to the greater vision.
Change management: The final takeaway
Implementing and adapting to change is not easy. But the alternative of avoiding change is a guaranteed path to stagnation and failure for any organization.
Great leaders are prepared and willing to propel their employees through change because they know that innovation, opportunities, and success are waiting on the other side.
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