All of us need to learn to lead through change, especially at present. We’re in a high-change period. Externally, the Covid pandemic continues, financial markets are down 15-20%, supply chains and job markets remain dislocated, and inflation – something we haven’t really experienced in almost 40 years – is upon us.
Such VUCA environments – i.e., those that encompass volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – are becoming more the norm as the pace of change accelerates around the world and we continue to evolve toward a knowledge economy.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of this change. However, to be fully successful, you need to embrace it and become comfortable with it. Even if you’re not a senior leader in your organization, you play a role, as almost every company out there needs change leadership to come from all levels.
How to Lead Through Change
What can you do to help lead through change? Here are 10 great ways:
1. Focus on what matters most
Not everything is equally important. Figure out what is most important to delivering on your own commitments, to your team’s objectives, and to the firm’s success. Focus your time on those things. De-emphasize lower priorities, tune out the noise, use your time wisely, and don’t get distracted.
2. Take a broad view
Get yourself and your team out of your silo. See things in an end-to-end or firm-wide fashion. Seek to understand what other groups do and how they are contributing to the work at hand. Above all, view service delivery through the customers' eyes.
3. Act with urgency
In high-change situations, time is of the essence. Make the most of it, and don't let time elapse unnecessarily. You can get a lot of things back, but you can't re-capture lost time. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you have to have to work all the time. While periods of change often require you to work harder than might otherwise be the case, it does no good to work so hard that you burn yourself out or burn out your team.
4. Be accountable
Take ownership. Do what you say you’re going to do, and follow through on your commitments. Don't blame other groups and don't pass problems off to others. Don’t “delegate up”, i.e., look to your manager or to senior leadership in your firm to tell you what to do or to solve all problems. If you see "white space" that no one is addressing, figure out how to make sure it does get addressed. When things don’t go as expected, determine why and address the underlying causes.
5. Act decisively
The lack of a decision is often worse than the wrong decision. You can often correct a wrong decision, particularly if you “fail fast”, but if you don't make a decision at all, you're just spinning.
6. Communicate early and often
Be transparent. Speak in plain language. Explain the why. not just the what, how, and when. Treat people like adults and don't dumb things down or sugar-coat them. Make your communications two-way, multi-level, and organization-wide. Get an outside perspective wherever you can.
7. Practice agility
Don't let yourself be overly wedded to your original course. Build in interim milestones and checkpoints. Iterate accordingly. Be willing to call "time out" if things really aren't working as planned. Be open to new information, including from non-traditional sources.
8. Get comfortable with conflict
Things aren’t always going to go perfectly. Everyone isn’t always going to agree. Differences will arise. Confront these situations. Be willing to raise issues when you see them. Seek to understand others’ points of view when they raise an issue. Learn how to address conflicts constructively and with an open mind. It’s always better to surface issues early than to let them fester.
9 Use your influence
Guiding someone to a solution is more powerful than just telling them what to do. Focus on asking good questions. Help your team see a situation in a new light. Empower them to act.
10. Stay true to your principles
It’s easy to take short-cuts when you’re under pressure. Avoid this risk by being clear in advance on the firm’s values and on your own. Have clear lines beyond which you will not go. Do what’s right for the firm and for our customers.
How do you lead through change? We’d welcome your feedback on this list. What resonates? What’s missing? Share your comments below. Also, if you want to explore this topic more deeply, we’d also recommend Brene Brown’s Daring to Lead and Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers. While not explicitly about leading through change, both books have great insights on how to be a high-impact leader. If you’ve come across other good books on the topic of change leadership, let us know!
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