Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing themselves- Leo Tolstoy.
We all know that the one constant in life is change, but dealing with change can make us uncomfortable and can even generate stress. This is because we cannot control everything that impacts our lives so we must learn to cope and adapt to change in our lives and careers. Change is evolutionary and we are always modifying our responses to address constant change.
Good leaders and managers know that organisations don’t change unless people change. Leading change is a big challenge, particularly in a world turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. Digitalisation is an ever-present influence in our lives while automation and artificial intelligence are some of the influences now driving workplace change. Continuous and rapid change impacts employment and job opportunities; jobs are being lost as AI and automation are embedded in the workplace. While new and different jobs emerge, we must engage with ongoing lifelong learning and reskilling if we aspire to remain relevant and employed.
Implementing change in the workplace will always test the capabilities of leaders and managers. When self-interest is threatened or when there is fear of loss there will be inevitable resistance. How leaders deal with “resisters” will impact the success or otherwise of any change agenda. How conflict is managed and how empathetic are those leading change will ultimately influence how well the change programme is implemented.
Organisational change must begin at the top. Leaders need allies and change ambassadors who will promote the value of change in the workplace. Good leaders will prioritise the recruitment of supporters to drive the change programme. As well as building a strong coalition for change, transformational leaders also create a compelling vision, set achievable goals and actions while also ensuring the change process is sufficiently resourced. Leading change is very much about leading people so there is real value in providing external coaching as a tool to ensure effective change management.
Transformational leaders always argue a good case for change but can only be truly successful if they are genuinely trusted by those they lead. Building trusting relationships and broadening networks of people is essential for any successful change process. Sometimes the journey from change resistance to change acceptance can be difficult, but good leaders can successfully manage and oversee evolutionary change if they create an environment of trust and invest in effective communication strategies.
By focussing on the big picture, selling the benefits, and managing conflicts that may arise, a good leader will most likely achieve the change programme goals. Showing that the proposed changes align with the goals of the organisation will help build trust and will assure those who resist change that the change strategy is worthwhile and beneficial. In managing the change programme good leaders will seek to manage the resistance to change by empathetic engagement with those who resist change.
Every good change programme will have anticipated the nature of the resistance to change. Leaders of change will be clear about their long-term strategy and the associated benefits and will constantly communicate that throughout the organisation. Realising that uncertainty associated with change often generates fear, resistance and stress the availability of support structures, facilitation and training are advisable to ensure the best chance of buy-in.
For organisations to transition successfully through a change programme there must be purpose and commitment, clarity in vision, consistency in communication, empathy in action and trust in relationships. Leading change is a great test of leadership and leaders. Leaders who are successful change agents have demonstrated their ability to adapt to change, build trusting relationships, and inspire confidence. In today’s world of constant high-speed change, the primary skill for transformational leaders to master is the ability to manage change as an ongoing evolutionary process by delivering the promised benefits set out in the vision for change. When people take ownership of that vision the road to successful change will follow. Organisations that transform can thrive; organisations that stand still will certainly die.
The secret of change is to focus all of our energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new – Socrates.
(Feature photo by Bluehouse-skis 0n Unsplash)