You want to, or have to, lead a change initiative in your organisation. It maybe because of a new software integration, a restructure or the implementation of a new process. Or it could be a plan for returning to the office and adopting your strategy for the 'new-normal'.
It doesn’t matter what the catalyst for change, our reality is that a system of work is only as effective as the people who use it; and a change plan is only as effective as the people leading it and responding to it. The key to leading effective change is adopting a nurturing approach, one where you create an environment that supports the required change, and provides your people with the best opportunity to understand, buy in to, and adopt the required change. So, do we want our people to feel as though they are being forced to change, or do we create the conditions where, as much as practical, people will feel like they want to change, or at the least, are open to the idea of change? The answer is obvious, and there are four key steps that are critical for ensuring your change event has the best chance of immediate uptake by the majority, and sustainable success; Alignment, Exposure, Saving Face and Benefits.
Ensure the relevance of your change event by aligning it against your strategy. If it's a company-wide change, then it needs to align with the organisational strategy, down to a team change being aligned with your team or functional plan. Ensure it adds value to the achievement of strategy and objectives. Change for the sake of change is wasted energy and will kill personal and organisational credibility quickly. The other axis of alignment is that of the leadership team. As the leader you will be watched very closely; does your behaviour match what you are asking your team or workforce to do? If not you are undermining the initiative from the outset. Your thinking, feeling and behaviour in respect to the new way of being has to be absolutely aligned; as too your leadership group if it is a group wide change event. Finally, the leadership team themselves have to find a place of alignment between each other. Individual leader commitment in their own division, branch or team is good; however it is equally important for the leadership team to embody the change together, and know implicitly as well as explicitly what they each have to do to contribute to this new way of being. If this isn't happening then you can think of the leadership team as being like an airliner with one out of the four engines facing the wrong way. It will hamper your efforts.
So some questions to ask yourself…
Think of anytime you’ve changed your mind in respect to something; whether you’ve quit smoking, switched brands of smart phone or decided to leave a company after a long time. You get the idea. The simple fact is that you had some help in making the switch…you were exposed to a new set of information. This information may have come from formal learning, but as we all know, most learning in life comes from our experiences in day to day life. So when thinking of change in an organisation, it is no different. We can ask someone to do something new, and if we force them from a behavioural perspective, then we will likely get a short term win. The new behaviour will be shown whilst the manager is around, however when left to their own devices chances are that the preferred behaviour will kick in. That’s simply because the thinking didn’t shift to match the behaviour, and lip service was paid to the new to way of working.
Now let’s not create any false illusions here; I’m not suggesting that we can shift the thinking of all employees, and there will be times where a change is absolutely necessary for productive work to continue - and so there is no choice but for change to occur. However the aim of any sustainable change event is to target the goal state of people 'wanting' to change. So your change event needs to be structured to do this…in other words we want to give everyone the opportunity to decide that the new way of being is something that they ‘want’ to do…not something they feel they ‘have’ to do.
To help you think about this with regards to your own change event here are some tips:
We can’t force someone to change their way of thinking. However we can create the opportunity, as we have started to explore in the above section on Exposure. However for some people moving to the new way of operating this may be a really big deal; especially if they have been doing the ‘old’ way for a long time, or if there is a safety element at play - whether this is psychological or physical safety. In today's climate of working out whether we should be transitioning back to the office environment, you can see how this would have both the psychological and physical safety aspects to be considered.
Allowing people to save face is more about the overall demeanour, or style, of the change initiative. If the starting position is ‘change or else’ resistance will be the order of the day. If the starting position is ‘ let’s do this together’ then we are starting to get somewhere. Remember that even if your intent is the latter, but you don't address the Exposure stage (no or poor communication or exposure to why etc) then you will be perceived as driving a 'change or else' mentality.
This is an unconditional approach, that is backed by a strong air of protection…the communication, and leadership actions supporting the change demonstrate that it is ok to try it, and to make mistakes, and to give it another go.
At the same time though, this is tempered with the provision of boundaries; the rules attached to the change event. As mentioned above, often change is not optional. So our efforts need to be addressing more than the obvious levels of change, and the dynamics. We also need to address the supporting factors, the frame that surrounds the change event. Factors such as the amendment of job descriptions or adjusting the organisation design so that it reflects the new way of working. Whilst taking an unconditional approach will get you results quicker, it is also important for employees to know clearly what is expected of them, and that performance management underpins the inability to move to the new way of operating. Most importantly, for the most stubborn of employees, the new job description may create their opportunity to save face. In other words, “I’m doing this because it’s in my job description, not because you want me to do this”. Some people need to start their journey of change from this point - and that's ok too. We are all different.
The key points to consider for saving face are:
People want to know that there is something in this for them. What are the benefits for the new way of being? The simple fact is that some of your workforce will not believe there are benefits until they see them. Therefore your actions in the Alignment and Exposure categories should reflect the benefits in a personal way and realistically.
But as a leader of change, you do not have the luxury of having a 'wait and see' approach. Your job is to believe it before you see it! Seek out other people or organisations who have already done what you are about to do; see the results for yourself, listen to their stories and create a picture in your mind as to what you can expect to achieve in your organisation.
At the outset, when creating your communications plan, clearly understand the benefits for the employees and not just the organisation. Weave these benefits through your messaging and exposure strategy.
Always remember…we change our way of being the easiest when we perceive that there is a clear benefit. This is because we aren’t focusing so much on what we are losing, we are more focussed on the future gain.
The final word?
Which of these steps is more important is debatable; but one thing is certain - they are interdependent. For example, thinking about the Exposure stage often takes care of the Save Face and Benefits aspects. At the same time though, if your leadership team, or you as the leader, are not personally aligned with the changes then you have a great deal of work to do in the other stages to compensate for this. There will be times when you don't agree with the change, but do agree with the need for change. In these cases you will have to find a way to be authentic and honest, without compromising your integrity, the integrity of your people or the integrity of the change initiative.
Change does not need to be difficult. It certainly isn’t easy; but then where’s the growth for us personally and professionally if it was always easy? These steps will help you lead a change event in a more efficient manner and can underpin, enhance or integrate with most corporate change strategies.
So remember, Align, Expose, Save Face and Benefits.
Author: David Morley
David is a developer of global-minded leaders, teams and organisations.
How often do we look at the most engaging and inspiring leaders of the world and ask ourselves, "why can’t I have a bit of that?"
Let’s face it, there are leaders out there who are engaging, effective, and carry with them a potency that seems to almost create a class system in terms of leaders. But what is it about their potency that places them at the top of the leadership pecking order (if such a thing existed!)?
There are three characteristics consistently seen in those I regard as potent leaders. They:
1. are natural
2. can relate with ease
3. own the role of a leader
Let's explore these ideas in brief.
Potent Leaders are Natural
A potent leader comes across as natural; there is a higher degree of authenticity with what they do and how they do it. This is because for them the debate on just how much we allow ‘who’ we are to influence our work isn’t a consideration. I often hear leaders express concern over how they work hard to keep their personal and professional lives separate, or put effort into managing the balance. Little do they realise that people engage as much with who we are as much as they do the other factors such as remuneration, rewards and the aesthetics of the workplace. Years of global engagement surveys highlight this fact; but the chances are your people aren’t reading employee engagement surveys, but they are reading you every day.
Being natural is about having a strong sense of self; being aware of your boundaries and being comfortable with what you are prepared to share, and the extent to which you are prepared to allow ‘who’ you are to colour your professional life and leadership style. Accompanying this is a healthy level of self-esteem and knowing that a little bit of vulnerability and openness is demonstrating that you are human; you are real!
So how can you be more natural in your leadership approach? The easy answer is to have the confidence to be yourself. If this isn’t a strong point, then question the self-talk that undermines and eats away at your confidence to allow more of yourself into the role. Chances are the self-talk is based on messages we have picked up throughout life (many that we have brought from childhood into adult life) that are irrational and probably not relevant to who you are today. So anything you can do to raise your levels of self-awareness and learn more about what makes you tick, will go a long way. Working with a coach who can help you connect with your values, reading or working with a mentor who is acknowledged as a natural and effective leader are all ways to help develop your style.
Potent Leaders Relate with Ease
The more natural we can be within our role, the more likely it is that we will be able to relate to others in an engaging style. After all, people will know ‘who’ it is that they are interacting with, which makes it easier for the communication flow and for the other person to also relax and bring more of who they are into the dialogue. When you are more relaxed with yourself, it also means you can increase your focus on the other person. Because you aren’t so worried (consciously or unconsciously) about what the other person may be thinking of you, this means you have more energy to invest in them. Observing their body language, looking for small cues that let you understand what they are really saying. You are signalling that you are interested in them; in ‘who’ they are. Leaders who relate with ease are really quite unconditional in their approach. To relate with ease is almost always about putting who you are, and your needs, to one side and really listening.
The impact for global leaders in this regard is significant. The ability to read small cues and be awake to what is really being said is critical to bridging the cultural gap. It is how we identify the cultural rituals and understand the differences that exist between us; allowing us to engage and relate with greater meaning. More importantly though, building any relationship, intercultural or otherwise, is an extremely unconditional process, and one that requires an acknowledgement that no matter which nationalities we may be interacting with we all share the some process for how we develop relationships. That is; we all need to go through a process of building rapport (seeking to understand ‘who’ the other person is, what their rituals are, and what is important to them), as a precursor to enjoying the natural momentum and engagement that comes with a ell developed relationship.
To improve the way you relate with ease, one of the most powerful things you can do is one of the simplest. Invest time at the beginning of the relationship to understand who it is you are dealing with. Ask questions and be inquisitive. Be interested, not interesting.
You will soon realise that the idea of relating with ease has less to do with you, but more to do with how you enable the other person to relate to you with ease.
Potent Leaders Own the Role of a Leader
Allowing more of yourself into the role, and relating with ease can help you grow into the role of a leader and evolve as a leader. Underpinning this is your ability to acknowledge that you are a leader, in a leadership role. Your decisions and behaviours impact the careers and lives of those in your team directly and indirectly and in obvious and not so obvious ways. From decisions on performance review and pay increases and decisions to hire or fire, through to making off hand or throw away comments that may be in jest or only half thought through…but if taken out of context by an employee can impact their thinking and behaviours.
If you don’t understand this, then it doesn’t matter how natural a leader you are, or the extent to which you can relate with ease. You are missing the point that you have signed up for management and everything that comes with it. This means making the difficult decisions and having the hard conversations as well as ensuring you celebrate the successes.
The key message is that the potent leaders don’t shy away from the fact that they are a manager. They understand that there is an inherent power that accompanies the authority of their role that can be used to inspire, motivate and help lift performance. This inherent power is a natural accompaniment to leadership. You can’t have one without the other; which means that those leaders who find it difficult to own the fact that they are a leader probably don’t realise that by doing nothing in their role, they are still influencing behaviour. But not in the way they would like.
The Final Word?
No matter who you are, your role, or level of leadership; you can start developing your potency whenever you want; it’s not something that requires permission from anyone else. You own your potency.
Be pragmatic and look for ways to practice and experiment with new ways of engaging and track the responses and results. Read books on the subject, take tests that allow you to learn more about your values and what’s important to you, be coached or mentored, and above all value the integrity of your relationships.
Author: David Morley
David is a developer of global-minded and engaging leaders, teams and organisations.