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  • Aparna Arvind

'Show Up' when Leading Change

Everywhere you look around, the one theme you cannot ignore is Change! Despite it being the buzzword since the beginning of the pandemic, change is not a new entity to industry, given the innovation we've witnessed for the last 50 years.

Successful business strategy has always involved some form of change, be it in response to a need-pull or efforts to implement a knowledge-push, whether it is exploratory or exploitive, and whether it is incremental or radical. The latest on everyone’s radar, for example, is how businesses will navigate the shifting landscape of how work gets done - remote / in person / hybrid? Irrespective of what the trigger for change, the ultimate success in any change effort is dependent on individuals adopting such change, and such adoption requires some real motivation!

So you may ask what this has to do with leadership? Well, it has everything to do with leadership! According to Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, leading change successfully requires a “sense of urgency” from leaders. This urgency is developed when leaders understand the bigger picture of what is happening both within and outside their organizations and industry. A key emotional intelligence competency that leaders must develop for this purpose is that of ‘self management’ wherein they continue to keep their ears to the ground and are aware of the trends that may necessitate pivoting on their business strategy. This understanding is key to developing a leader’s messaging on the ‘why’ behind any change initiative, and how this aligns with the broader purpose of the organization. When an organization’s purpose is clear, there is greater engagement from employees.

So we now have the message as to why we need change, however that’s not enough to set change in motion. Research done by organizations such as Prosci, show that change efforts that lack “visible sponsorship” from leaders are less likely to succeed, and such sponsorship involves being present during the change effort; a great deal of communication and transparency around the ‘why’ behind the need for change. Change, as we all know it, is never easy and seldom welcome. If things seem to be working well, it is but natural to resist it. After all, who wants to put in all that effort if it isn’t absolutely essential to getting the job done?

5 Valuable Nuggets

Here are a few suggestions to help you ‘show up’ as a leader in convincing your people to adopt change, and know that it takes a village to get things moving and that change must start from a place of trust.

1. Get your facts right: Engage that curiosity muscle and seek out information that ensures both you and your team see the bigger picture. Build the case for change with facts that you can refer to when questioned - because trust me, there will be questions! This requires self-management and ensuring that you as a leader are not relying on 'old info' to validate new initiatives.

Ask yourself - What can I do to ensure I am well-informed on what’s going on? What else do I need to know? Which stakeholders in the organization do I need to communicate with to stay informed?

2. Use two-way dialogue in ‘raising awareness’: Communicate regularly with your team and all stakeholders that might be impacted by a change initiative, and do so with a structure that allows for feedback. Create a safe space for people to share their views, questions and apprehensions - and don’t just simply collect this information, do something about it. Demonstrate your presence by ensuring you follow-up with responses to questions and concerns, and empower your team to make decisions and pivot where needed in the change process.

Ask yourself - Does my change messaging convey adequately ‘why’ this change is necessary? What communication strategy do I need to put in place to ensure regular, timely and appropriate information dissemination to all impacted stakeholders? What can I do to ensure I am receiving feedback on both my messaging as well as the change initiative itself?What must I do to ensure a fair degree of autonomy with the change initiative to ensure my team can take decisions and move forwards in response to feedback received?

3. Align systems to facilitate motion: When implementing a change initiative, ensure that you've assessed whether the current structure, system and processes are aligned to facilitate the change at hand. Build bridges, eliminate redundancies, ease bottlenecks and promote iteration to enable systems thinking and flow.

Ask yourself - Have I evaluated the various cross-functional impacts of change and whether the systems in place will to allow for seamless communication between all impacted stakeholders? Have I done enough to break down silos? Are our current processes still relevant?

4. Demonstrate empathy: Taking the effort to understand the challenges faced by those who must adopt change, allows for creating more effective solutions in facilitating the needed change. Active listening can be an invaluable resource to tackling resistance and building a guiding coalition towards change.

Ask yourself - Am I listening to validate what I want to hear, or am I listening with a curious and open-mindset? Am I taking into consideration diversity of thought?

5. Walk the talk: If you plan on rolling out an initiative that wants people to use new software that enables collaboration at work, then don’t be that leader that continues to use the older software just because it seems more convenient or happens to be easier for you to use. Lead by example and with authenticity.

Ask yourself - What can I do to demonstrate that I truly believe in the change and that my team can benefit from this change?

Leading change is a vast and fascinating topic, and by no means is the information above all encompassing.These are but snippets of how you can get started. For those interested in exploring the world of change and best practices surrounding change implementations, explore the book 'Leading Change' by John Kotter, as well as the McKinsey 7S Model.


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