Organizations of all sizes are in a constant state of change now more than ever. External and internal factors include but aren't limited to growth, lack of growth, economic cycles, emerging technologies, shifts in the competitive landscape, figuring out how to best lead this generational workforce, cultural gaps and communication challenges.
One of the most important roles a leader has is to drive necessary change and evangelize its importance. Obtaining buy-in and protecting the company culture are critical and this can only be done with clear and consistent communication and follow-through.
I've taken my companies through periods of change and it isn't easy. I have definitely made mistakes along the way and applied those lessons learned in order to do it right the next time.
Here are eight very important steps for helping the team accept and even help push change within an organization.
1 - State the Change
Whether the change is perceived to be major or minor, the leaders must be able to clearly articulate what the change is all about, why it's important and what the positive outcomes of the change will be. What does winning look like on the other side of the change?
Change must be led from the top down. Senior leaders must get all the managers on the same page prior to communicating the message to the rest of the company. That way, the other team leaders in the company are prepared to answer questions and concerns as needed.
2 - Listen to Feedback
The team's voice must be heard. And chances are, many people on the team have most likely been begging for change and know what is needed. Getting their feedback will assist in smooth transitions and gaining their buy-in.
There are varying forms of change that occur in organizations. The first type needs no explanation and everyone understands the need and why it's happening. The next type is similar in that the team generally understands the need, but the "why" requires more explanation. Other types of change are either misinterpreted or have an adverse effect. Gaining feedback throughout the change process will hold everyone accountable and help maintain alignment.
3 - Acknowledge the Feedback
Collecting feedback from the team is important but even more important is acknowledging that feedback. I recommend obtaining team feedback during the beginning, middle and end of the change process. The after-action-review is important for the learning process. Don't leave that part out!
This doesn't have to be a formal process. Getting feedback during casual conversation is fine. But I do suggest having an anonymous survey at some point during times of change. Employees will feel more comfortable being transparent. The last step is the most important. The leadership team must reflect on the feedback, tell the team what they are "hearing" from the feedback, and then some kind of action must be taken.
4 - Use Emotional Intelligence
Leaders must lead by example in this regard. Change can be scary for the team and showing compassion and empathy are important. Leaders must communicate clearly, show discipline and be transparent.
Emotional intelligence is not a soft-side leadership strategy as it may sometimes be perceived. Leaders that actively practice improving their emotional intelligence are better equipped to drive positive change and guide the team through the inevitable obstacles.
5 - Explain the Why
Everyone wants to know the purpose behind organizational change. In my last company, we decided that we needed a better project management solution and better data as to where people were spending their time. This would lead to improved financial decisions and efficiencies. So we rolled out new software and a time-tracking tool. Holy hell! Let's just say that this threw everyone for a loop.
It became very apparent that we needed to be doing a better job explaining the "why." Once the team understood the reasoning behind this change and that the goal was to improve their work balance, the revolt slowly subsided.
6 - Define Clear Roles
Defining the roles and decision-makers is very important. Everyone with a role in driving change must understand who is accountable, responsible and informed. Specific team members must own certain aspects of the change process.
Once rolls are assigned, make sure that milestones are set, regular check-ins scheduled and a rhythm of communication established.
7 - Provide Training
Most of the time, training will be required. Whether it's a new system, process, software or an overhaul in customer service, the team needs to be well-trained for the changes to not only stick, but to be effective.
Do not forget this part. And yes, time and budget have to be carved out. This is where companies fail much of the time. Leaders have to provide proper time and resources during the roll out period.
8 - Reward Acceptance
Some team members will take well to change and proactively aid in its acceptance while others will be slow to adopt. Have a plan in place to publicly reward those that make the time and effort to embrace change. Especially those that do it with a good attitude and get other team members on board. Keeping the team properly motivated will aid in adoption of the changes. "Overall, I believe the best way to motivate your team is through effective communication and truly knowing each of your team members. Sharing the vision and expectations at the outset along with status updates, mid-course adjustments and milestone celebrations assist with creating/building a good work environment," says my friend and colleague Phil Hayes, VP at The Arnold Group.
Change is inevitable. It's much less painful doing it right the first time. Following these steps will help increase the speed of change and keep morale high during the process.