Change is easier said than done. Many leaders say they want change, and even have a positive attitude about it. But when it comes to actually implementing change, very few succeed at making it happen. According to an article published in the September 2013 issue of Forbes, only 25% of change management initiatives succeed over the long term. And while nearly nine out of 10 leaders claim to train their mangers in change management, only 22% report that the training is effective at implementing lasting change.
What differentiates those leaders who do implement change effectively? It’s a matter of mindset.
Barriers to the Change Management Mindset
Why is it so difficult to adopt a change management mentality? The reasons are many and, for the most part, understandable. Common barriers to an effective change mindset include:
- Allocating resources solely from a revenue perspective without taking the needs of change initiatives adequately into account
- Difficulty gaining support (especially in a consensus-driven culture)
- Unwillingness to share intellectual capital
- Fear of negative career impacts
Another barrier is simply the learning curve that change entails. Many leaders learn to be effective change agents through trial and error. However, organizations can pay a high price for this approach.
For example, AlignOrg Solutions worked with one sales team leader who had already implemented several major changes in his organization. He was having trouble getting his sales team on board, and couldn’t understand why. After diagnosing the situation, we identified a gap between his perception of what was being done effectively and how his team members perceived it. He had not taken time to clarify several major issues for them surrounding their new roles and accountabilities. This resulted in people questioning both the change itself and his effectiveness as a leader.
Lead the Change or Be Led By It
Clearly, having an effective change management mentality as well as the essential skills for properly communicating and executing it are prerequisites for successful and lasting change.
In the midst of change, employees look to leaders for clarity, communication, and accountability. When leaders fail to deliver, their people fall into confusion and disillusionment, and tend to become unmotivated and unproductive.
As a leader, you must step up to manage the change — otherwise it will manage you, to the detriment of your organization. Stepping boldly into the change management role allows you to effectively meet the expectations of your partners, staff, clients, and stakeholders—and efficiently implement lasting change.
3 Key Strategies for Effective Change Management
AlignOrg Solutions has identified several effective strategies to assist leaders in successfully adopting the role of change leader. Here are three key principles to consider:
- Communicate a clear vision of the change you want to see. Effective change management requires buy-in. Consistent, clear communication is essential — including routine, mundane issues as well as issues of profound change. Clear communication is enhanced by using the preferred communication methods of your audience. For most organizations, this requires skillful use of social media. A November 2015 Harvard Business Review article noted that average use of social media across platforms totals three hours per day, and over half of employees who had gone through a recent change event said they wished their employer had engaged more through social media and digital means. In fact, only 17% indicated a high level of satisfaction with their leaders’ communications efforts.
- Maintain a high level of connection with employees. The same article reported that CEO participation on social media resulted in better understanding of company dynamics for nearly three quarters of CEOs, while also allowing a similar percentage of employees to have more direct connection with their CEO. Social media provides leaders the awareness they need to effectively explain their vision and enlist support. It also gives employees the transparency and directness they need to feel comfortable buying in to the change.
- Display a high level of transparency and accountability. Leaders must be willing to accept accountability for what’s working and what’s not during a change. Accountability inspires organization members to address problems with the change and achieve optimal results. True accountability requires a willingness to allow others to see what’s really going on and objectively assess progress. By doing this, you set the stage for your team to likewise be open to constructive performance feedback without falling into patterns of blame. When leaders are held accountable, they take all aspects of the organization —processes, employees, organization, and culture — into account to ensure optimal functioning of each. In the event that they are not functioning well, it is the mark of a good change management leader to admit to misalignments and gaps, and to proactively address any areas that need attention.
Leaders’ reputations are often made during times of change and transition. Following the above principles helps leaders to step up to the change management plate with presence and grace.
During a change event it is even more important than usual to maintain your leadership status. Don’t give people the opportunity to question your leadership or your organization’s mission. Doing so will undermine buy-in and can erode loyalty to you and to the organization — not only from employees, but also from partners, customers and stakeholders who pick up on this questioning attitude.
Effective Change Starts With You
To manage change effectively, leaders must be the change. It is imperative to be fully accountable, as well as to understand your team’s mindset, enlist buy-in, and hold them to the same standards of accountability that you hold yourself.
Being an effective change leader demands commitment, communication, and care. You as the leader are the link between your organization and the change you envision. When you clearly understand your role and the expectations people have of you, communicate a clear vison for change, and maintain a high level of accountability for yourself and others, you can successfully orchestrate even the most challenging change.