Most leaders know and thrive on the idea that to succeed and have a competitive edge, you have to change what your business is doing and how it does it at some point – if not continually. The pandemic showed us that large-scale business change, like digitization, remote working, and innovation can be done by the smallest, most agile company as well as the biggest. In some way, every single business in the world has undergone significant change in the last three years. It is an inescapable truth that change is not just the only constant, it’s also the only proven way to succeed in business!
Towers Watson research found that companies with strong change management practices are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers. But people don’t like change. And we as leaders know we must work very hard to commit to change ourselves and work even harder to get others to commit to it in the face of disruption to routine, more work, lower productivity, and a possible financial hit. But it has to be done, and we’re the ones who have to ensure it gets done, is effective, achieves its goals, and is supported post-implementation too.
How Should Leaders Lead Change?
Coming from an RPO background, my views on change and leadership always center around people, strategy, and ongoing processes. You can’t think of your enterprise as a faceless entity, it’s made up or 100s or 1,000s of people who need the security of your processes to keep everything running smoothly and feel safe in the jobs. When it comes to change or transformation, you need to focus on letting every single person know:
- What it is you intend to change
- Why you’re the best person to bring this change about
- Why that change is important for the business
- Why it will benefit them in the short- and long-term
- What they can and should contribute to the process
Your communication program is of the utmost importance when it comes to any kind of change. You may know that change for a business is always, ultimately, a good thing centered around improvement. But many people’s gut reaction is fear, concern, or anxiety over what limitations or deductions change could have on their responsibilities, budget, personnel, opportunities, salaries, etc.
Communication for Business Change: 3 Things You Should Always Do
There are many communication channels in the modern workplace, some are more official than others and some are more effective than others. Having led several businesses through transformation, both my own enterprises and other people’s, I can speak from experience on what works well and what doesn’t when it comes to getting buy-in from your company on business-wide change.
Regularity and consistency are the keys to reassuring your workforce – across all levels – and of getting people excited and bought into transformation and change. The Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study and defined the key qualities and activities that effective change leaders manage well were the three Cs:
Already established as your baseline of bringing in change, great communicators use a wide array of communication channels so they can reach everyone in a way that will resonate and reassure them. No one thing will work for every single person in your workforce, you need to try variations and combinations of different things. For example, holding a company-wide conference where you communicate your vision for change, and then following up with an email communication encapsulating your vision that’s backed up by a statement on your intranet… the combinations here are endless, but the consistency of your communication and message is key.
Inviting people to be a part of the change means capitalizing on the enthusiasm of some and turning the fears or anxieties of others into constructive ways to mitigate risk. It ensures everyone feels a part of the process and that their opinion and insight on the process of change for your organization matters.
Arguably the best skill any leader can have, getting people to commit to your transformation plans will always lead to better odds at overall success. This starts with your own commitment and enthusiasm, the way you talk to people, encourage them, and excite them. This means being realistic about the risks but championing the benefits on an individual level and for the business as a whole.
As a leader, it can be tempting to limit your efforts to your senior leadership team (SLT) and let your intentions trickle down from them, but you need to have a company-wide mindset when it comes to leading your company through a period of change. Companies and teams that work together toward a common vision are 1.9 times more likely to deliver above-median financial performance.
How to Support Your People in Times of Change
Deep business change creates instability for people, and being thrown out of doing things the way they always have inevitably caused more inefficiencies than it solves – at first! But people may have concerns over how any impact or change to their productivity may be perceived when companies implement deep business change. You know they will eventually learn new processes and be faster and more efficient, but they may not. In times like these, it is important to be an empathic, visible leader. Try:
Documenting Plans and Progress
If you’re still in the process of transformation, ensure everyone has visibility into how it’s going. What’s next? How will phases 3, 4, or 5 impact particular teams? What’s the timeframe? People will feel more reassured if they know what to expect and when.
Allowing Everyone Time to Learn or Train
A clearly-defined grace period where everyone can learn how to operate new systems or processes will relieve a few of their concerns and allow everyone to reach peak productivity again.
Allow people to feedback on any concerns or compliments about the changes you’ve instilled, respond appropriately, and let people know you are listening to them.
Setting an Example
Be vocal about how you appreciate the changes to your business that this process has brought/will bring, how it’s giving you more oversight, allowing you to make better decisions that benefit your company, and what opportunities it’s identified for growth. If you see the benefits, other people will be more inclined to too.
If you’re restructuring or developing a new function, offer your current people the opportunity to move laterally within the company, to try something new, and let their skills empower change. Recruiting from within always shows trust in your people and the untapped potential of their innovative ideas or leadership skills.
Change is never easy. But allowing your workforce to be a part of the process, to have opinions and enact change themselves, will ensure buy-in during the change process, empower your change managers, and ensure the smooth running of any new procedures, processes or systems once complete.
Change never really stops for a business, it’s an ongoing process that you and your company need to be comfortable with and excited about! Set the tone for your organization, be enthusiastic and encouraging and your teams will follow suit.