We hear a lot in organisations about how you should always lead by example. However, these are often words that many leaders pay lip service to and their words don’t ring true to their actions.
When it comes to managing change within your organisation, top-level commitment is vital to engendering commitment from those at the coal face. If employees don’t see that the company’s leadership is backing a change, they’re unlikely to change. No amount of top-level support is too much.
When approaching change, many would start with gathering and analysing information and building a comprehensive project plan, but managing these aspects alone is not sufficient to implement successful change. Ultimately it’s when leaders and change influencers combine the hard factors with the soft elements, genuinely appealing to the hearts and minds of their employees, that cultural change occurs.
Having worked with many organisations, we found that in order to influence effective change –simplicity, consistency and context are key. Communicating clear and inspirational messages about the new vision, ambition and the rationale for change both within and outside the organisation helps to create the courage for challenging convention.
Businesses can influence change by focusing on the following 7 elements:
1. Start at the Top and Align
Although it’s important to engage employees at every level early on, all successful change management initiatives start at the top with a committed and a well-aligned group of executives strongly supported by the CEO. This alignment cannot be taken for granted. It is essential to ensure that every key leader agrees on the case for change and early on so that there are no disagreements further down the line.
When undertaking any change management, we consider that one of the principle first steps should be for the executive team to take a hard look at how effective they are as a leadership team. Receiving feedback from each other and next level leaders and staff on how constructive they are in driving a high-performance work culture to support drive successful change is key.
Teamwork from the get-go is critical. Gathering leaders into a series of workshops to reflect on the feedback is an important first step, as more often than not, executive teams tend to mostly operate as lone rangers, harbouring the characteristic of ‘start-up style’ which they can become accustomed to. These workshops lead to in depth discussions and the opportunity to create a more aligned and cohesive team. We find that when Exec teams are aligned and transformation happens at this level, it builds the confidence required to cascade the plan to next level leaders and across the organisation.
2. Lead with the Culture and Role Model Change
A global culture survey conducted by Katzenberg Centre revealed that 84 per cent of respondents said that an organisation’s culture was critical to the success of change management and 64 per cent saw it as more critical than strategy or any operating model. Yet, change leaders often fail to address culture – in terms of either overcoming cultural resistance or making the most of cultural support.
It’s easy to think that building a culture is about other people’s behaviours and not about how you act as a leader. However, culture change begins when leaders role model the behaviours they want the organisation to emulate.
For example, many ask how they can build a more innovative culture. It’s not as simple as telling everyone to ‘go out there and innovate.’ Innovative culture is a product of the behaviours that are embraced throughout the organisation. One of those elements is a willingness to have open and frank discussions about what separates great ideas from bad ones. If you want to be innovative, you also need to accept failure and if your staff aren’t pushing boundaries and sometimes failing along the way, you probably aren’t pushing hard enough or celebrating and learning from failures as you should.
The point is that building an innovative culture starts by looking at how you behave as a leader towards those trying to innovate. The same is true about any kind of culture: It all begins with the behaviour of your leaders. To say that another way, if you are interested in changing the culture of your organisation, your first step should be to look in the mirror and make sure you are setting the example.
3. Inspire Change in Others Through Stories
In times of transformation and change, we recommend that leaders develop a change story that captures the hearts and minds of the workforce – storytelling is the most powerful approach. Leaders must develop a change story that helps all staff understand where the organisation is headed, why it is changing and why this change is important. These change stories not only help get out the message but also serve as an effective influencing tool. As people re-tell the stories to others, they begin to accept and embrace the change, giving them the autonomy to own it.
4. Foster Understanding and act your way into new thinking
Define the organisation’s high performance capabilities. With change, you need to be very clear about the shift in focus and behaviours. This allows fostering understanding and conviction in the change and will have employees feeling; “I understand what is being asked of me and it makes sense”.
This is one of the most critical steps to the success of any change initiative, ensuring that people’s daily behaviours reflect the imperatives of change. Start by defining a few critical behaviours that will contribute to the success of the change, then conduct everyday business with those behaviours front and centre. Senior leaders must visibly model these new behaviours themselves right from the start because employees will only believe real change is occurring when they witness it happening at the top of the organisation.
5. Develop Talent and Skills
Investing time to have growth conversations with staff around change can instil a sense of control and competence to promote an active effort to improve – it can create the mind-set that “I have the skills and opportunities to behave in the new way.” People are more motivated to achieve when they believe that greater individual effort will increase performance.
6. Involve Every Layer of the Organisation
Strategic planners often fail to take into account the extent to which mid-level and frontline people can make or break a change initiative. The path of rolling out change is immeasurably smoother if these people are tapped early for input on issues that will affect their jobs. Their full-hearted engagement can smooth the way for complex change initiatives, whereas their resistance will make implementation an ongoing challenge. People across the organisation feel more invested when they have had a hand in developing the change plan.
7. Engage, Engage, Engage
Leaders often make the mistake of imagining that if you convey a strong message of change at the start of an initiative, people will understand what to do – nothing could be further from the truth. Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place.
Change management can be a worrisome time for many at all levels, but ultimately change is a positive step and can mean new opportunities and growth. The importance is for the CEO and the leadership team to tell the story of change, convey the context, empower their staff, keep the conversations going for emotional investment and effective organisational change.