Leaders are responsible for establishing the strategic direction of an organization and effectively disrupting the status quo to achieve new results. The truth is change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While change can happen to any business due to market shifts, economic downturns, or plain bad luck, strong leaders imagine, direct, and inspire others to create the changes they want to see happen. As we all start to consider our strategic direction for 2015 and plan for what we want to achieve, let’s take a look at what it truly takes to get people to follow where you lead.
To successfully guide people through the difficulties of change, leaders must align people with their goals and provide whatever new training is needed to deliver on the identified strategies. Yet, leading change can be tricky. Change is hard! Leaders must connect what is good for the organization's future with what is good for the individual, and then engage each person into contributing to that future.
It all starts in the hearts and minds of your people, as one of the biggest obstacles to change is fear of the unknown…also known as change. Training is itself a form of change—it adds new information or techniques around what you have been doing so you can learn what you need to do differently in the future. When a person feels uncomfortable or even afraid, leaders must help them see learning as an opportunity to grow through change, because neither can happen inside your comfort zone.
When something new is happening, we have to encourage people to take a leap of faith that the future change is more compelling to them than the current situation. Understanding how to get people to embrace change verses resist it is the first step in shifting an organization to reach its full potential. Having a healthy perspective around learning makes learning new things a lot more fun and interesting.
Rather than focus on the discomforts of change, leaders can help their people realize the benefits of it and embrace what's possible. It is important to lead your people to a positive perspective around change by asking the questions that help them see what's in it for them. Ask questions that focus on the results of change, rather than the change itself:
• What matters most from your perspective as we move towards this new direction?
• How can you help us get there?
• What will you need to do differently, based on our team's goals?
• What training might help you get there better, smarter or faster?
• What concerns you about our direction?
• What opportunities become available when you improve your skills and competencies?
"The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself"
Fear does more to hold people and organizations back than lack of ability. Fear can be a powerful de-motivator. Most people worry about what they don't know and how it might affect the world they do know. People don't want to fail or look foolish or let others down.
When people feel incompetent they tend to disconnect with their peers, blame others, or cover up their mistakes. I call this tendency the "Lie of Leadership," and it slows down organizational progress and makes it more difficult to anticipate and avoid problems, impacting everyone—not to mention your bottom line.
Communication Is Key
To avoid the "Lie of Leadership," leaders must open communication even more than normal during times of change. Here are a few suggestions:
• Share the "whys" about where the organization is going and the changes that will need to occur to be successful. Helping people understand why opens them up to change.
• Align the why with what is in it for each person so they engage in supporting change.
• Create opportunities to provide encouragement at the group and individual levels.
• Engage in change among your people, not above them.
• Develop a process for employees to safely share their concerns or questions, and support the process by being a leader who listens when they do come to talk.
Squashing the Myths about Change
When we don't feel “in the know” or feel we disagree with the changes being made, most people add their own conjectures to the conversation to fill in the gaps. When this happens, it tends to be based on myth over fact. Here are a few myths it’s time to squash to help your people and organization become masters of change.
Myth 1: "They are withholding the truth on why we are changing."
Some people think that when the boss isn't communicating a change or the related reasons for it, they are withholding the truth about what is happening. To minimize this perspective, it becomes important for the leader to speak directly to the change and be honest about it. Admit the fact that no one can see into the future, and share with people at all levels of the organization why you believe this change is crucial to the organization's success—despite the risks.
Myth 2: "The leader knows all of the answers."
The one thing most leaders know is that they don’t know enough! And yet, it’s a common myth among those we lead that we have all the answers. Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas or recommendations benefits everyone, and could lead to more effective change management. Being part of the process of change naturally decreases the stress around it and feels more empowering. Make sure your people know you are always looking for better answers.
Myth 3: "If the leader doesn't ask you, they don't care."
Often, people think that a supervisor should just know how they are feeling or what they are thinking without being told. No one can read minds, not even the boss, so opening a dialogue about how people are experiencing change in a proactive and appreciative way will be a relief for both you and your employees.
The Bottom Line
What's the real result of embracing change? New results become possible. You never know what you, your people, or your organization are capable of until you push beyond what you thought you could achieve and strive for more. By supporting a healthy and benefit-driven perspective on change, you help your people learn to embrace it and grow the skills and competencies they need to succeed, ultimately improving performance and profitability.
Renie Cavallari is the CEO and Chief Instigating Officer of Aspire, an international marketing, training, and leadership development company that ignites change to improve financial performance. If you aspire to disrupt the status quo and improve profitability, reach out to Renie at [email protected].