The 5 Most Important Aspects of Leading Others in Times of Change
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Change is inevitable, whether it comes from organizational initiatives, evolving market conditions or an external force that can’t be anticipated or controlled. For organizations to survive, grow and thrive in the face of change, strong and effective change leadership is critical for success. No matter the type or scope of the change you are leading, here are five essential things the very best change leaders do to ensure success.
1. Inspire others and share the vision.
Successful leaders anticipate, understand and address employee concerns in order to inspire them to support change rather than resist or fear it. By taking a human approach, they can generate the necessary buy-in and support for change.
To begin, leaders need to share a compelling vision that describes what the future state will look like, why the future is better than today, and the benefits of supporting the way forward. A clear vision helps to ensure not only that everyone involved understands the benefits of changing, but that they feel a part of it and are on board with the changes that will need to happen. A Harvard Business Review study found that company leaders are more effective in building support for change when they communicate a vision that clearly explains what will change and what will stay the same. When individuals can see what the end state will mean for them, they are less likely to experience anxiety or offer resistance to change.
2. Define the strategic plan.
Once employees can see the vision behind the change initiative, leaders will need to bring the vision for change alive with a strategic plan. The plan needs to define expectations so individuals can see who will be responsible for what, the timeline that will guide the change and the key processes that will be impacted along the way. This way, individuals can begin to see the big-picture implications of change and what it will look like for them and their team.
3. Communicate effectively.
Communication must also go both ways. Employees must feel like they can ask questions and provide feedback on the change. As the one leading the change, find opportunities to get feedback because not all employees feel comfortable giving feedback in all settings. Creating safe spaces is critical to receiving useful and insightful feedback.
It’s also important to communicate using a variety of channels, such as team meetings, town hall discussions, one-on-one meetings and emails.
4. Provide consistent support.
Throughout company change initiatives, leaders need to be present and available to support their employees. Individuals will need coaching and assistance to navigate the day-to-day implications and obstacles to change. As new responsibilities are added and others change in scope, new ideas and procedures will come to light. Leaders can optimize the impact of change by working with employees on an ongoing basis to address suggestions and ideas related to the process, as well as workflow improvements to optimize the tactical plan for achieving the strategy.
5. Sustain the momentum long-term.
Sustainable change takes time, so successful change leadership requires maintaining energy and motivation throughout the initiative. To achieve this, leaders can celebrate successes and routinely repeat the rationale for change so it stays top of mind. Provide data or metrics showing the progress. This can help individuals see their effort is paying off. Some organizations may even find that periodic surveys to gauge employee mindset and their commitment going forward can help in making adjustments to help everyone sustain their effort. When investing in a change initiative, you can’t risk it fizzling out before you’ve achieved the vision.
Change requires strong leadership.
It is never a question of whether there will be change in an organization — the question is only when and how to implement it successfully. Consistently and effectively navigating change requires strong leadership, because in the end, it is your employees who will execute the new strategy in their day-to-day work life. Leaders must be able to inspire people through a strong vision, define the strategy, communicate effectively, support their employees and maintain the energy and commitment to change through to completion.
Strong change-leaders don’t just ensure that new processes and tools are incorporated into daily workflows — they inspire belief and confidence in their employees that they all can and should embrace something new.