So why does change matter? Change is all around us. If leaders wait too long to address changes within their internal and external environments, organizations can miss the windows of opportunity to change without doing damage to their brand and ultimately their businesses. For example, in some circumstances, decision makers choose not to follow the paths of their reactive competitors, but if their competitors are more attuned to the market and the changing environment, they recognize which trends they should respond to and which ones should be ignored. When a company misses the window because decision makers don’t want to seem to be following competitors, it can lead to their demise, or at the very least, a difficult period.
Change also matters because it is part of the fabric of being in business. It is unavoidable, and it has the potential to propel businesses that manage to remain ahead of the change curve. Your competence with change matters because when change fails, it can have far reaching consequences unless your company is adept at problem identification and solving. I have witnessed multiple change initiatives that focus predominantly on process and content. (The what and how of the change) Scoping of the situation is completed, projections are made and a plan is created that focuses on the process that needs to be changed. Unfortunately, more often than not, there is limited attention to people considerations.
One of the primary people considerations is communication. This is about ensuring people have the information they need so they can remain productive throughout and after the change. Some organizations underestimate the power of using communication to establish early buy-in until they face a wall of resistance. Involvement of the team in the planning process can help reduce resistance because not only are employees being given the opportunity to truly understand the change and the related processes, they are being given the opportunity to provide their input and address their concerns. It is interesting to note communicating seems like a logical step, but unfortunately, too often it is inadequately planned and implemented.
Opening and sustaining communication channels before and during a change process are essential to managing morale. Channels need to open to allow two-way communication flows because the authors of change cannot possibly think of everything that may go wrong. When bottom-up flows of information are viewed as attacks and the channel is shut down, this can lead to unsuccessful or partially successful change implementations.
Regardless the magnitude of intended change, the majority of organizations I encounter do not have robust, multidirectional communication flows. Many of them have strong top down communication flows that facilitate directives. In highly controlled environments, leaders are proud of this type of channel yet employees lament their voicelessness and lack of access to relevant information because oftentimes information gets lost somewhere at the middle management level. These institutions underestimate the power of multidirectional, effective communication and its connection with results. Communication is not only essential to daily organizational operation, it is critical to managing morale during change, supporting learning agility, and responsiveness when change plans are activated.
While I am the first to acknowledge there are multiple challenges that impact the organization’s ability to implement change, executives are the primary architects of culture and they set the stage for how change happens. These leaders establish standards by choosing what is communicated or not, which behaviours are acceptable, and which priorities are the highest. Executives approve systemic and structural changes with or without supporting evidence. They may even decide to immerse themselves in power games, others won’t tolerate this type of unproductive structure.
In one instance I was asked to assist an organization with resolving people risks related to the leadership of the most senior executive. This executive was technically sound but never experienced running a large business. Needless to say, multiple errors were made by the executive and ownership of the mistakes was deflected by him because there was no effective system of accountability in place to ensure integrity and responsibility. From a business perspective, the executive was unaware of the multitude of risks he was creating because he did not possess relevant leadership insight that comes with experience and skill.
This is obviously not an example of the type of leadership that will facilitate successful change. In order to increase your organization’s chances for effective change implementation, authentic leadership is needed. Here are a few examples of authentic leadership behaviours:
- Integrity and Accountability
- Placing new employees in positions after assessing their fit for the role.
- Being realistic about the skills of team members
- Giving credit to employees for their outstanding work
- Being preoccupied with shared goals
- Being willing to acknowledge a poorly made decision with grace and ease
- Merit based performance
Every culture I encounter is extraordinary and unique. Even though there are similarities, the way similar patterns present themselves varies because of cultural context. Each culture has its strengths and unproductive patterns. When it comes to culture and change, too many organizations end up with a new status quo that looks like change happened, but the old systems are alive and well beneath the exterior of the initiative. It is time to take a deeper look at change to ensure you are not treating it like a check list exercise. It is time for authentic change because change matters!
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.