Effective Change Leadership
Time for change?
In our Effective Leadership in Action workshop this month, we looked at the importance of identifying and understanding key aspects of change as a precursor for being able to lead change effectively. We know the initial planning and preparatory stages are critical to navigating complex change, however, they are often overlooked or completed in haste, potentially fuelling the ever-demoralising reality that most change initiatives fail to meet their intended outcomes.
Leading effective change is getting more complex and unrelenting in pace.
As important as these steps are for effectively leading change, the single biggest obstacle leaders face is time. Significant change often arrives wrapped in urgency and leaders simply do not have the time to complete the steps needed to set change up for success. It seems impractical to expect change to stop, so … how do leaders make time for change?
Leading change effectively: the context
It is critical to identify and keep sight of the specific triggers to help form the narrative of change. However, it’s also essential to avoid the pitfalls of letting our change programme’s purpose and scope creep to satisfy all manner of other sins.
We need time to ensure we have understood the context and lay firm foundations for change BEFORE we can understand the impact on others or what it will take to lead change effectively. A recent LinkedIn poll from a respected expert in organisational change supports this view after 10% of respondents thought ‘creating a sense of urgency’ was where change journeys should start, against a whopping 57% of respondents who cited ‘understanding the change context’.
If we assume urgency into all change, we are contributing to the ‘change fog’ that engulfs businesses and makes change painful for all involved.
Some change is urgent, but it may not help your business to assume urgency and adopt a leadership style that creates immediacy and related anxiety as a prerequisite.
Leading change effectively: the nature
The second key preparatory stage for leading change effectively is to clearly define the nature of the change you are tackling. There are a range of attributes that would be important to assess, but none more important than the degree of control you have over the timing and pace. We need to make time to consider how much time we have to make change! If you have ever been involved in a change programme or initiative that needed urgent attention, only for it to rumble on for months beyond deadlines with no sign of the world ending, then you know what false urgency does to morale.
In practice, to understand the leadership requirements of change, we often first look at the nature of change and the requirements it puts on people involved in change.
Leading change effectively: the people involved
You are more likely to be an effective leader if you can take time to understand the personal impact change has on the people involved, their perspectives, concerns and objections. It is also useful to make time to assess the capabilities within your team that will contribute to the success of the change you are making (i.e., stakeholder analysis). These steps won’t delay your change; they are likely to make your approach to leading change much more effective while avoiding the quagmire of change inertia.
We refer to this in our co-written blog, How to be an effective change leader, where ensuring people engage with and embrace new practices includes the identification and tackling of cognitive, emotional or behavioural barriers to bring about sustained difference, and requires an understanding of stakeholder perspectives.
Time for change – effective leadership in action
Too often leaders prefer to move slowly, minimising the risk, and in the process allow important and necessary transformations to end incomplete, or worse, in failure. We are not advocating moving slowly; we are advocating taking time to complete thorough analysis as part of leading change effectively, rather than rushing into change with urgency, regardless of the context and perspectives of others involved.
This Forbes article refers to the five stages of change, with action coming only at stage 4. A key element of this article is the reference to the challenges of behavioural change – we cannot assume people are ready or equipped to change their behaviours. We need to understand the relationship between the change itself and the people involved before we can determine the most effective way of leading change.
Our steps of change
1: UNDERSTAND the context, define the nature of change and analyse your stakeholders.
2: IDENTIFY the strategies and leadership skills required to effectively lead the change you are tackling.
3: DEVELOP the inspiring yet realistic vision of change in a language that has meaning to the people involved.
4: IMPLEMENT the actions required, with sustained effort and evaluation of progress and outcomes.
John Kotter himself suggests that leaders of change can increase their chances of success by conducting internal ‘organisational analysis,’ analysis of the factors that produce the need for change and selecting change strategies based on this analysis. He doesn’t jump straight into ‘change is urgent, we must change now!’ He notes you should determine the optimal speed of change using your analysis.
We know time is short and business leaders are already short on capacity. Making time for change is hard but if the outcomes of change are important, possibly critical for your business, then making time or getting help with the preparatory stages is critical in effectively leading change.
If you want to hear more about effective change leadership, here’s a recording of a webinar we hosted on the same topic.
Blackmore Four are an independent Essex-based consulting company, offering specialist advice and tailored solutions to businesses looking to improve business performance. Our approach is based on a deep understanding of human behaviour at work and an ability to identify and address the specific leadership and organisational development needs of your business.