Professional Planner: Whether you like it or not, change is gonna do you good - Michelle Gibbings

Change only happens when everyone who is required to plays their part. Successful change leaders know this. They know the change isn’t just about them and so they’re focused on how they can inspire and liberate their team to new levels of performance.

Unfortunately, change leadership is still a skill that many leaders struggle with.

Want to start being a more effective leader? Head over to the Professional Planner, where I share some tips to get you started.

Change only happens when everyone who is required to plays their part. Successful change leaders know this. They know the change isn’t just about them and so they’re focused on how they can inspire and liberate their team to new levels of performance. Unfortunately, change leadership is still a skill that many leaders struggle with.

Studies, such as the 2013 Towers Watson report (Change and Communication ROI survey)reinforce what other research has shown – that the majority of change efforts in organisations fail. The primary cause of this is usually a lack of leadership. If leaders want to buck that trend they need to do things differently, and be far more conscious of their change leadership approach.

Know the context

A critical step is to be aware that change doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Instead, an organisational change takes place amidst a stream of other changes. Consequently, there are connections, dependencies and impacts from change – some of which are known, and many of which are unknown. Getting comfortable with this complexity is critical. The leader needs to navigate the shifting landscape so they can best help their team prepare for the uncertainty and ambiguity that accompanies organisational change. This involves thinking broadly and deeply about the change, and understanding what’s driving the change and the desired outcome.

Step up and lead

Conscious change leaders are curious and open to how the change may unfold and the role they and their team needs to play. They know their role and its importance. They don’t delegate it to others, and they accept they can’t do it alone. A 2014 IBM report (Making change work…while the work keeps changing) found that 83 per cent of organisations surveyed saw top leadership sponsorship as the most important aspect of successful change. However, it also found that the most effective way to change attitudes and behaviour was to involve leaders (at all levels) in role modelling (73 per cent) and to identify and empower people passionate about change (64 per cent).

Don’t replicate. Reflect, adapt and refine

Change isn’t usually one step after the other. There will be progress, but there will be set backs. Conscious change leaders relish the challenge that lies ahead, and are focused on the opportunity that comes with it. They understand that every change is unique, and it’s dangerous to take a “cookie cutter” approach to the change. So they learn from the past, while not being a slave to what’s worked in the past. Coupled with this, they respect that each change may cause different reactions, based on a person’s individual circumstances.

Craft the team

To get the change initiated, built and implemented they assemble a diverse mix of people. They are deliberate in determining the roles that need to be played, who needs to play them, and how people come together to get the job done. They don’t do this alone. They seek advice and input from those around them. Change creates uncertainty and it becomes even harder for people to cope if the change is introduced into an environment where people don’t know their role or the rules of the game.

People want to know what they are accountable for, and want some flexibility in how they go about doing their job. They want to feel like they have a choice.

For example: a good concert is well coordinated. The expectations and roles are clear. There’s a common purpose, and a strong sense of team. The performers, stage and production crew work in harmony with each other. Those involved in the production know that the ‘whole’ is only as good as the ‘sum of the parts’. A performance with multiple conductors causes confusion. If there are too many people trying to take the lead singing role, the music is unbalanced. If instruments are not tuned correctly, the performance is off key. If the players don’t play in time with each other, the performance becomes a shambles.

It’s the same with change. It needs to be clear who is leading the change. The leader can enlist the support of a ‘road crew’ to help plan and execute the change. There may also be people in ‘lead roles’ (i.e. other change leaders and advocates) and ‘support roles’ (i.e. change agents and technical experts). There’s also an audience – the people who are impacted by the change. But they are not passive participants; they are involved and engaged throughout the production and have options.

Get active, not passive

Getting the team actively involved in looking at what can and can’t work is important. This is more than just paying lip service to the concept of involvement. It’s actively and constructively building a change approach where the team’s ideas are regularly sought and they are involved in key elements of the implementation.

This approach ensures:

  • The right people are involved at the right time
  • Everyone is clear about their role, and knows how their work effort contributes to the team’s success and outcomes
  • Peoples ideas are heard, and the leader accepts the fact that they don’t have to have all the answers
  • The right environment is created where people feel engaged and inspired
  • There is enough space for challenge and learning, and the team feels supported and encouraged to keep pushing the boundaries and to try new ways of working.

Adopting such an approach creates ownership. The more a team is involved with the change, the more ownership they will take and the greater the accountability they will feel for making the change work. Delivering the desired business benefits from a change can be challenging, and most change efforts fail in this regard. Getting the team members engaged upfront and throughout the life cycle of the change increases the likelihood that results will be delivered.

Change starts with the leader

For some leaders adopting this type of approach will require them to change, and be open to the view that some aspect of their leadership style is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. This isn’t easy, as leadership habits are often long ingrained in a person’s behavioural style. However, through reflection, feedback, support, deliberate practice and learning, successful personal change can occur. If a leader wants to step up to the next level of leadership – conscious change leadership – then the time for solo performances is over.