Transformational change is a problem that challenges many organisations. According to a study by McKinsey & Co, less than a third of participating executives could describe their restructuring initiatives as being successful.
With the ever rising importance of keeping up with competitors and customer demand, getting change right becomes more and more valuable for businesses. So why might so many be struggling with it?
If your first reaction is to think it comes down to poor planning, you might be surprised. The research from above says that only 22% of respondents described poring over a strategy as working in the right direction. Instead, what seemed to bring better results was a combination of several actions that had one thing in common: focusing on leading and supporting people through change. Here’s what you need to know.
Understanding the ‘change management’ vs ‘change leadership’ dilemma
The research by McKinsey & Co echoes a phrase that might sound like a cliché, but rings true regardless: innovation happens with people, not with processes. In their results, planning and analysis were regarded as important, but what really made an impact was having the right approach to leading people through change.
Change leadership proves to be one of those corporate terms that is not only difficult to define, but also causes confusion due to a tendency to be used interchangeably with change management. While one can’t exist without the other, knowing the differences can guide you on adopting the most effective approach to introducing a new vision for your business.
Change management relates to the methodology your company adopts – the set of tools, structures and models you use to achieve the desired outcome. It has more to do with keeping the activities leading up to change under control and maintaining a steady course with clear action points.
Change leadership plays a more prominent psychological role because it influences how events are perceived by the involved stakeholders. It forges a clear direction for innovation – without it, change can be seen as frightening, if not even threatening. Belief governs behaviour, and if you kickstart with a team that feels anxious or disengaged, even the most meticulous strategy won’t bring you the results you’re striving for.
So what’s the secret? Ever heard of the three C’s – communicate, collaborate and commit? Research shows that these are the three most common themes shared by successful leaders. Change of any scale is a challenge for businesses, but proves to be the most difficult on employees. Resistance to disruption is an entirely natural response, and will most likely accompany any type of changes that you propose, even if they aim only to introduce a small update to existing processes.
1. Consistent and transparent communication
Leaders who make themselves readily available to communicate and support employees can considerably improve the chances of others seeing the value in stepping away from their own comfort zones. In fact, when it comes to the key drivers for successful change, communication rules them all – an overwhelming 65% of businesses claim that it’s a major influence on the execution of their plans.
As a driver of innovation, you want to make sure that everyone the execution depends on is on board and feels not only confident, but also motivated. By creating an open environment where communication is encouraged and diligently practised, you can decrease the likelihood of unaddressed fears sabotaging the entire process.
McKinsey & Co discovered that teams that dedicated time to discuss the previous day’s results and the current day’s work were twice as likely to successfully implement change. Responding to concerns, asking questions and reducing internal competition can not only encourage your team, but also eliminate the probability of you working with one-sided assumptions.
2. Collaboration and empowerment
Do not work in isolation. Leadership is a team activity, and those who are good at it are able to bring people together and equip them with the resources they need. Communication and teamwork should be inseparable in your approach, because they dynamically impact each other.
Firstly, communicating transparently about progress allows for participants to see how their work influences the organisation’s vision. By highlighting their contributions, a good leader is able to affirm the importance of each role and responsibility. Hence, the likelihood of people becoming more engaged rises.
At the same time, collaboration removes some of the largest barriers to communicating effectively. In some cases of change management, while the proposed shifts should be perceived as beneficial for your team, part of your employees might understand it to have a negative impact on them. This scenario can quickly brew an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere, which is reinforced when people don’t work together and lack the opportunities to share their thoughts. Try to tackle this problem by making sure that the team works as a team, rather than a collection of separate units.
3. Commitment to your vision
Imagine someone preaching an idea, but then their actions go in the entirely opposite direction. Not very reassuring. In a way, those leading change become a metaphor for the future – people look to them to have a better understanding of what the objective actually should look like.
Remember that phrase in the beginning – ‘Innovation happens with people, not with processes’?
This includes the leaders themselves, if not even starting with them. Committing to achieving your desired objectives involves consistent hands-on work and taking up the responsibility of acting as a role model. How would leaders otherwise fairly be able to ask the same of their employees?
Change is inevitable – it’s not a luxury, but a necessity. Your competitors are embracing change every day, improving their business models and aiming higher in your market. It may seem challenging to determine where exactly to focus for optimal results, but the answer in fact is quite simple: the most integral aspect of your business is your people. Communicate, collaborate and commit to supporting them, and you will have made the most worthwhile investment.
Originally published January 17 2018 , updated June 12 2018