Lessons in leadership: effectively managing change

By Jeff Holland | October 9, 2019

A lot of money and effort are invested into leadership training, but organizations often fail to accompany that investment with infrastructure (read: resources, roles, and responsibilities) that supports people in making those changes. Let’s look at some strategies for successful senior and front-line leadership in managing change within your organization.

Communicate your vision.

Communicating your vision from the get-go will not only set expectations but also help manage inevitable change, so having a communication strategy in place is key. If employees know your vision of being an ever-evolving organization from the time they’re hired, and that message is frequently emphasized, when change occurs, they’ll be more open to it.

When those changes do come about, they need to be clearly articulated. But also personified. People connect to their organization more when leaders show compassion and are able to tell a story in their own words–not only in the corporate voice. That’s why it’s so important to embody company values and share that passion in your message. The same rigor is needed in your communication and execution as the actual plan.

Know your audience.

While we all strive for positive change, the reality is not every change will be. What is guaranteed, however, is that every employee will jump directly to “how will this affect me?”– will I still have a job as a result of this change? Will my responsibilities change? Can I still wear jeans on Fridays?

As a leader, you need to understand your audience and convey your plan and expectations in a way that’s meaningful to them. And you need to expect reservation. You need to give your team time to digest. Be receptive to people asking questions–and individualize the answers.

Honesty is the best policy.

Never present and promote a negative change as a positive one. People will always respect authenticity regardless of how they feel about the shift. By leading with truth, you create a culture that’s more likely to embrace the change. Everyone’s entitled to have their own reactions–respect them. Be empathetic. Give people time. But through it all, be honest.

Recognize the skills you have, but also those you don’t.

Leaders require certain traits. Some you’re both with, some you’ll have to work at and develop. Both senior and front-line leadership need to:

(1) recognize the skills they have as leaders;

(2) recognize the skills they might need and acknowledge that they might not have them; and

(3) recognize who you’re managing and who will also need to be involved in leadership roles and responsibilities.

Self-awareness can do wonders. Just as with managing change, you need to understand what’s required in the successful delivery–and sometimes that means looking in the mirror.

Be a role model, lead by example.

Leaders are beacons, where everything they say and do (or don’t say or do) is amplified. People will look to them for direction. They set the standard. And during a period of change, it’s more important than ever to lead with stability, honesty, respect, humility, commitment. With the values of a good role model, and the values of the company.

When it comes to change management, leaders need to model the behavior they expect their employees to make.

Don’t turn a blind eye.

In the process of leading by example, recognize that you can’t turn a blind eye. Failure to acknowledge wrong-doing is positive affirmation. While leaders model positive behavior, they sometimes forget to address undesirable behaviors that they see when they see them. So how do you actually build management of change into the program? Through those physical behaviors that people will look to, to demonstrate to themselves that something is different, thus bridging the gap.

Don’t shy away from being direct and don’t meet negativity with negativity.

Over the course of implementing and managing change, you’ll undoubtedly be met with resistance and negativity. Though it’s critical to be patient with people and provide support, you have to exemplify management. Part of that is controlling negative behavior instead of letting damaging attitudes control the organization.

Remember, you’ll never have the entire organization on board with change. Transition isn’t easy, and it would be impossible to have everyone agree on everything. However, if you’re noticing a lot of resistance, don’t be afraid of having direct conversations.

Ultimately, you don’t want your change to be a waste of time, money, and resources. By having the right leaders, with the right mind-set, managing change is likely to get you the results you and your company are striving for. Change management needs to be built into every strategy as an integral part of the plan, and one of the most important moving pieces of that integral plan are its people.