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Thriving in a Dynamic World: How to be a Savvy Change Leader

By June 7, 2023July 10th, 2023No Comments

Digital transformations are at the forefront of change efforts within organizations today. The ongoing transition to hybrid work is also driving multiple enterprise changes. Leaders need to manage change at a macro-level across the organization if new technologies to support these transitions have any success in helping organizations to be more competitive, but leaders also need to navigate how change is adopted into the organization. New change methods that focus on the strengths of people in synergy with the organization versus a more directive and prescriptive approach will be key in shifting paradigms and maintaining engaged employees.

In large-scale change efforts, most organizations (more specifically executives or those leading the change) tend to focus their change efforts on the “what”, i.e., reorganization, new operating model, new digital tools, etc. and not the “how”, i.e., the approach in the way it will be rolled out. If you thought large-scale implementations like Enterprise Resource Systems (i.e., SAP or Oracle) and Customer Relationship Management Systems (i.e., Salesforce or HubSpot) were challenging in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, you will look back on those times and think those changes were easy compared to what we will experience in the next 10 years. Most research points to failures of these large-scale changes with a whopping 70%+ failure rate sighted by Gallup and other leading consulting firms which is still true today. In addition, “a 2022 Gartner survey found that 75% of organizations are adopting a top-down approach to change, where leaders set the change strategy, created detailed implementation roadmaps, and deploy a high volume of change communications.”  This change approach will continue to be challenged and possibly lead to failure if leaders don’t shift the approach to engage employees at all levels in the organizations and incorporate them into the evolution of changes.

We are all experiencing change to varying degrees within our organizations. People resist being changed especially if it seems they are being managed or told what to do without their input or their voice is not being heard. The challenge is that managers are at the forefront of overseeing the micro-changes happening and it is not as easy as just telling employees what to do. More and more, employees want to have a say in what makes sense on how to bring these changes needed by the organization to life at a more localized level. Using leaders to guide their teams and engaging in these conversations when they come about, the leaders have a better chance of influencing and guiding their employees. You need to realize that employees are trying to make sense of the changes that are already happening. We know there are always multiple change efforts concurrently happening throughout the organization all at once and this activity will continue. Gone are the days when we have only one major change initiative occurring at once. This is why building your change capabilities is a critical skill for the future.

As a leader, you need to understand that influence is happening all around you within the organization. Employees are interacting within their informal networks within the organization and ask others how they think and feel about the changes. These interactions are more informal and way more complex and leaders must understand that these interactions are occurring so they can be prepared to have conversations around what is happening to build more influence and positivity to help employees make sense of it all. Research from Gartner has shown if the voices of those who are impacted by the change are incorporated and heard then organizations increased their change success by 15% overall.

Change fatigue is a real issue and challenge for leaders as well. Gartner’s research found that employees’ capacity for change has been cut in half as compared to surveys in 2019. They also found two key differentiators around employees who can better absorb change: leaders who have built trust with their employees along with the team sharing a sense of belonging.  These were key factors to help employees accept changes within their organization.

According to a leading change management organization, PROSCI, they found in their research that engagement and support of middle managers are one of the keys to success in organizational change efforts. However, the research also found that most middle managers have not received basic training on these skills to lead change and don’t understand what is expected of them during this time. Additionally, in a recent 2023 research study conducted by Reworked, they found a lack of change management to be on the top 5 list of challenges for the digital workplace.

It is critical to give training on the foundational elements of how people experience change and the associated behaviors so these leaders can coach their teams through the change to be better able to navigate the ups and downs of the change efforts. In many cases, it is more of an emotional reaction than appealing to logic. It is not just involving these leaders in the changes that are happening to them and their teams but giving them the necessary skills and knowledge to be savvy change leaders.

Beyond giving leaders the skills they need to thrive during change, they need to have the right mindset around driving changes. This could be asking some critical questions such as, “Am I fearful or open to this change? Am I being respectful of different orientations to this change? How will I actively influence this change?” Additionally, here are some other ways you can break free from a more directive organizational change approach to be more inclusive:

  1. Talk to the people most affected by the change—not just the project management office or the executives within the organization.
  2. Use design thinking approaches to better understand the various stakeholder groups and their opinions.
  3. Build change capabilities and understand what is working for and against the changes you are implementing.
  4. Pay attention to the feedback from employees along the change process and adjust as needed by creating learning networks as feedback loops.

Organizations in the coming years will continue to be severely disrupted by all this uncertainty which means there is no hiding or halting this change process. If disruption does not occur at all levels in your organization, then more likely your company will not exist in the near future. The bottom line is organizations need to evolve and change or they will die. This is why it is so critical to understand the critical success factors to driving change and how to support our employees at all levels within the organization so we can grow and thrive for many years to come.

The world needs more savvy change leaders. If you’ve had change initiatives that are not going accordingly or need to build change leader capabilities, let’s schedule some time to talk. Send me an email or message me on LinkedIn for an introduction to your challenge to see if I can help your organization. Additionally, I can share with you a change diagnostic you can use to help identify areas that need support to be successful with your change efforts.

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