I am often asked what I believe are the key traits that underpin an effective change leader. Having been involved in change in the capacities of a people leader, a leader of change and a contributor to change, I've come to believe that there are three key elements that underpin the success of a change leader.
Strategic and Tactical Ambidexterity. The ability to work simultaneously in a strategic and tactical capacity will bode you well in leading change, or as a leader in general. The ability to keep an eye on the true north of the project whilst managing the day to day politics and project needs is a skill that not everyone possesses. However the best leaders have this desirable ability and it's what underpins their performance. Make time each day to reflect on the strategic elements of the project, whilst ensuring that factors like the administrative elements of the project are managed in the context of the project scope. Don't be blind to the politics of the project, and at the same time don't engage in games to do with the politics. In that one sentence you have a golden key to relationships success in the change project.
Don't Be a People Pleaser. Things will go wrong. You will make mistakes. You will make people mad, and they will let you know it. This is a reality of change management and leading people through times of transition, evolution and change. If you have a drive to please others, then you have a choice. The upside of this is that if you know you have a tendency toward being a people pleaser, you are probably able to tune in to the feel of the room, and connect with how people are feeling. Leverage this strength as it is one of the best ways to ensure people feel heard and connected with throughout change. But you need to regulate this desire and not slip into being a rescuer and spreading yourself so thin when it comes to making sure everyone is ok. When we slip into rescuer mode we discount the ability of others to deal with change which is the opposite of what we need to be doing. You won't be able to make sure everyone is ok, and in the end you will burn out. If this is you, and you are unable to keep this in check, then either get out now, or look to strengthen this aspect of yourself.
Rest and Reflect. When I look at the leaders who have inspired me, and when I look back at my own approach, I see that the ability to rest and reflect is a key attribute of a leader, especially when driving change. When leading change you need all the energy you can get, simply because you are investing a bit more energy into coordinating, directing, communicating and supporting your people. So find ways to take genuine time out reflect on the day that was, and to explore in your mind what tomorrow may be like. Take time to chill. Take your mind away from the reality of the day. We often forget that when leading people our primary tool is our brain. So give it some time out, rest it, and allow it to be at its best so that you can role model with ease and energy the new behaviours every day.
So there you have it, my key traits that underpin effective leaders of change. Of course there are many other traits as well however these are the qualities I see time and again in the more successful leaders of change.
Author: David Morley
David is a developer of global-minded leaders, teams and organisations.
Tradespeople fix things. Your tap is leaking, call a plumber. The electricity cuts out, you call an electrician. They fix things. They make us feel safe. They help us get on with our lives.
Your people are struggling with change and come to you for help? Do we fix them? Some managers feel like they need to have a fix. And if the fix is supplying an update on some information then great, there's your fix.
But our people are human, and they are dealing with the internal machinations of change. So when they land on our doorstep in a state of uncertainty or fear of the unknown we cannot be tradespeople. If we think we need to have a fix then we will both fail in this situation. We will place unnecessary pressure on our own shoulders to have an answer for something we can't completely understand (who really knows what's going on in the head of someone else?) and most likely we will become a rescuer...we will discount the ability of our people to autonomously and successfully work through change with us being their supporter, encourager and leader.
And that's the difference. Our fix, if we feel we need to have one, is to lead with empathy. Our tools include being aware of our own biases and concerns that may prevent us from supporting our people through change, and listening to what's really being said so we can respond appropriately; they may just need to vent or share the load.
We are not in the job of fixing people, or having all the answers in all situations that can help our people move through change. But we are in the job of being there for our people, keeping our eye on the bigger picture, leading compassionately and with empathy and guiding the team as best we can.
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.
Your skeletal system is not your nervous system. Anyone who has worked with me, especially in the last couple of years will know that this is my favourite expression when starting the discussion around how to optimise the way we approach change.
The skeletal system is of course important. It’s the tangible, structural and probably most visual aspect of change, represented by things like a change plan, the organisation charts in a restructure or documented work flows for a new system. We need the skeletal system because people need structure throughout change. We know that people like structure at the best of times, and when the ground is moving underneath us, structure is needed more than ever.
However we also know that the skeletal system is only as effective as the nervous system that powers it. If the skeletal system is about the solid and structural elements of change, then the nervous system can be considered as the way we approach the change and work with the intangibles.
Consider stakeholder management throughout change. This is often thought of as sharp end of engagement throughout change, and the process is usually one of asking: who are our stakeholders, and why are they our stakeholders? What if we reframed this to ask a different question that combines the approaches of the skeletal and nervous systems? It would sound something like this:
Who do we think:
We are then armed with a powerful piece of information that is ready to be validated through informal conversations and checking in with each team member or group to get a sense of where they are at. Once the validation has occurred you can then structure your leadership around what those in each category need to hear or experience to help them engage with the change.
And then of course, there is the more recent COVID-19 situation. The rapid change experienced by everyone as we transitioned to virtual working didn't give anyone a chance to manage the transition as well as we would normally like. But we are now talking about what the near future looks like, including talk of returning to the workplace. In this situation, you can use the above analysis to gather a picture of where your team is at in terms of the next transition; in fact I would suggest it's a non-negotiable if you are looking to lead in an engaging manner, and build engagement between your team and what's next.
The final word?
Both the skeletal and the nervous system are required for the human body to function effectively and the same goes for ensuring there is engagement throughout change. If we focus only on the tangibles, we miss the opportunity to get people involved and engaged with what’s going on. If we focus only on the intangibles, such as who we need to engage and what they need to hear or know, we risk losing them because they can’t see or sense how the whole thing hangs together and more importantly what there is for them to hold onto throughout the change.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
Having a sense of purpose is central to effective employee engagement, and there are three dimensions to this, that if understood, can contribute effectively to organisational engagement strategies. I call these dimensions:
Below is a short descriptor of each type of Purpose.
Intrinsic Sense of Purpose
This is really about those fundamental questions like; Who am I? or What are my values? We may never fully know the answers to these types of questions, but for most people there tends to be a sense of what the answers are, especially on the values side of things. I like to think of this as being our internal compass and life vest all rolled into one. It gives us direction, and in those times when the direction isn’t clear, or we lose our way, our values can act as our life vest to keep us afloat until we regain traction. If we are unable to access, develop or acknowledge our Intrinsic Sense of Purpose, we aren’t in the best position to optimise our Extrinsic Sense of Purpose.
Extrinsic Sense of Purpose
This is the part of us that the rest of the world can see when seeking to fulfil our Intrinsic Sense of Purpose, whether it be in our career, our personal activities or the way we engage with family and friends. Ideally, in a professional context, we would like to think that what we do for a living is an extension of ‘who’ we are and the reality is that this is true for all of us, no matter what our country or culture. In Asian and Middle East cultures, for example, our work team really is an extension of our family on many levels with individual purpose being reinforced through acceptance of, and belonging to, the group. This of course relies on knowing ‘who’ our colleagues are and what they stand for and is as important, if not more important, than knowing ‘what’ we are here to do. Whilst in cultures, like that found in Anglo countries, there is a continuous need for organisations to understand and express its Intrinsic Sense of Purpose in an effort to attract and retain employees by demonstrating that what it stands for is good for the Intrinsic needs of the people it hopes to attract and for those who already work there.
So our Extrinsic Sense of Purpose serves the purpose of being fulfilling on a practical level (I enjoy what I do) and reinforcing our Intrinsic Sense of Purpose (I enjoy how I do what I do and why I do what I do).
Adapted Sense of Purpose
This is an interesting place to be as there are times when our Intrinsic and Extrinsic senses of Purpose aren’t in alignment. This can be when we aren’t sure of ‘who’ we are but we are finding ways to sustain ourselves externally with the hope that this will provide clarity on who we are. This can be caused by a major life event which creates the need to re-evaluate who we are, and can sometimes seem like it’s always a work in progress.
There are also those times when we are sure of who we are, but our Extrinsic activities are out of alignment. For example, when we are starting out in our career, there is sometimes the need to take what we can get to build up experience. There are also those times when we are caught up in a restructure or major organisational change; and then there is the more stark situation that comes with expats moving from one country to another. In all of these situations we are required to adapt temporarily until we can find that common ground, or reconcile between who we are and where we find ourselves.
The Challenge and the Opportunity
It is in the Adapted space that we can lose people…no matter the circumstance. It is in this adapted space that we see the largest turnover of expats during the assignment and upon return due to culture shock, reverse culture shock and a lack of planning to support effective return of the expat. In change management, we lose people because the change plan didn’t take into consideration how people will feel, react or perceive the change. In restructures, it is more obvious because who we can often be wrapped up in what we do.
This challenge also represents the greatest opportunity for both the individual and the organisation. It is in the Adapted space when there is the greatest opportunity for personal and professional growth.
If you are able to identify those moments in your organisation when at either an individual, team or functional level, there is likely to be gap between the Intrinsic Sense of Purpose and the Extrinsic Sense of Purpose, that’s where the work is to be done. That’s precisely the place where concerns are planned for, fears are addressed, excitement is harnessed and progress can be created.
We often miss this piece as we are focussed mainly on the external factors, for example, what I want you to be doing compared to what you are doing today. And our change plan supports this in a structured and behaviourally focussed way.
However, if we are prepared to explore the space between who our people are (and therefore the reason why they likely joined your organisation) and what we are asking them to do differently, (and therefore the intrinsic impact this will have on them), we are in a better position to drive genuine engagement.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
No matter how big or small the change initiative that you’ve just implemented, the real proof of your success will be the degree to which the new way of working sticks. And as exact as we try to be with whatever model of change we apply, the reality is that change management is not a perfect science. With this in mind, how can we create the opportunity for higher levels of change success and embedding of new behaviours?
Summarised below are four principles of change that can support the sustainability of your change initiative. These can either be treated as the lens through which you view your change model, or applied in parallel with your change initiative.
1. Leadership Alignment
The most successful change initiatives are ‘led’ with intent. This is because the leaders involved with the change (either directly or indirectly) acknowledge the potency that comes with their leadership role and understand that what they say and do as an individual and a group is being watched. There is a genuine leadership value held and acknowledged by the group around what they need to be doing to support and embed the change. One of the most common derailers of change can be traced back to how aligned the leadership group were around the change. The key question here is; does the leadership group have a goal or vision for how they need to ‘be’ throughout the change process, and is there an agreed way of operating? Another key factor to consider is whether there is an awareness of the parental influence held by the leadership group. When this awareness doesn’t exist, we see inhibiting games played out; just like children like playing one parent off the other, our people will play one manager off another if it means that it will help delay the inevitable!
The heart and soul of any change initiative is the fact that we are expanding the frame of reference of those affected by the change. When we think of change, we typically think of the steps involved with whatever model we are applying - the skeletal system of the change. Important; but perhaps not as important as the central nervous system that coordinates everything else in helping us get from Point A to Point B.
When we get the fact that we are providing our people with a chance to expand their frame of reference, and that their frame of reference is constructed of their belief and values system, then we start to really understand the importance of even the smallest changes. In fact this is what could be considered the central nervous system of your change initiative.
3. Save Face
In conjunction with the above point, what’s absolutely important to keep top of mind is that you cannot force an attitude or behaviour to change. Remember that many people define themselves by what they do, and if you have people who have been successful, based on how they’ve performed a task over a long period of time, then the ability to help them move from Point A to Point B whilst saving face will be vital.
You can do this by:
The last point is related to the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor. As with any change, unless we know (or at least perceive), that there is a gain to be had from changing our behaviour then we are probably less likely to change at all – or at least willingly! A few things to keep in mind when thinking about how to pitch the benefits include:
The last word...
This is really about bringing your change initiative back to the human element. If we do this, then change and its stickability, doesn’t seem quite as daunting. The greatest variable in change isn’t the change process you adopt. The greatest variable is the people you want to bring on the journey…and the best part is that when we strip back the layers we are all made of the same stuff, and develop and grow as humans in the same way. So consider your people the way you’d like to be considered, and perhaps your change will stick a little better than it has before!