Last Word: Leading Change Is A Constant For Every Organization

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As one year ends and another begins, one thing we can be assured of is change. It is the one constant in life. The trick to leading and managing change is understanding it is constant, identifying what is needed, communicating the need and then leading and managing it to a successful conclusion.  

We live in an era where the rate of change seems to be moving faster than what we, as individuals, can adjust to.  Certainly we’ve seen that with regard to technology.  We’ve also seen it with social and political issues.  Sometimes the change is well-planned and explained and other times it just seems to be the result of someone’s wishes without any plan or explanation.  Whether the change is a small process change or a big-picture change, we need to embrace it and personalize it.  

As a leader, your role in change is critically important. Change is personal. To effect change in any organization, people must think, feel, or do something different. The catalyst for the need to change may be poor business results or practices, a new strategic direction, or a change in mission or focus. Regardless of the reason, the catalyst for it and the success of it rely largely on the leader.  

When we as leaders approach daily operations, we normally fall back to well-defined and used processes and operational models. We understand the transactional approaches we use daily, why we use them, what to expect from them, and have a level of confidence and trust that using them will give us the results we expect. Leading change isn’t so clear cut. With change we are leading a dynamic mental, and often emotional, process.  It is imperative that the reasons for change, the process of it, the expected results and, more importantly, the timeframe for it are understood by the entire organization. The responsibility for ensuring that all of these components are known and understood by the entire organization falls squarely on the leader.

To successfully accomplish change, the organization must have trust in its leadership. Building that trust requires open, transparent communication with a plan the organization can believe in.  The leader must clearly outline the reason for the change and be consistent in their messaging.  

For small organizations, the challenge may be small, as daily touches and communication are relatively straightforward. For larger organizations, the communication and change process may seem daunting due to size and structure. The challenge in both cases is to create an atmosphere that allows employees to internalize the need and change their thought processes around their workflows.  Leaders must teach employees how to think strategically, recognize patterns, and anticipate problems and opportunities before they arise. 

Leaders must also demonstrate they understand the need by acting in a manner consistent with their messaging.  It must be apparent to the organization that the leader believes in the needed change and is committed to its success.  Anything less will undermine the trust necessary to be successful.  Change occurs in an organization when everyone is seeing behavior, actions and results leading them to believe the change process is working and everyone is behind it.

One way leaders can prepare their organization for change is to let them know it is inevitable.  When talking to the organization about vision, stress that the organization is a dynamic and evolving one where change is inevitable to continue prospering.  

In the end, as a leader it means being prepared and preparing your staff to understand the reasons for the change, the process you will utilize, how to implement that process and how to ensure the change so it becomes embedded in the culture of the organization.  

There isn’t a leadership style that’s more effective than others when leading change.  The trick is to be yourself.  Be authentic, communicate extensively, and build trust.  Dialing into your emotional intelligence will allow you to pick up on the resistance to change and the difficulties people are having with it.  So, be sure you connect all of the dots to create an overall picture of the why, where and how long while clearly identifying how the change will be measured.

Bob Cody, executive director of Leadership Cape Cod, brings over 25 years of leadership experience in corporate, academic and nonprofit organizations. He is Chief Executive Partner of Innoreate, a business consulting firm, and was a member of the Cape Leadership Institute class of 2012. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of CLI, Open Cape, Cape Cod Technology Council and the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, where he is the incoming Board Chair.