Leading change, it’s 24×7

Change has been occurring since before the beginning of man, so it is a fair bet that it will not stop soon. Whether organisations like it or not, they will change.

External influences change the constraints an organisation has, the expectations their stakeholders place upon them and change the values and capabilities of their people. What separates organisations from one another is how they deal with change.

Some react to change along a conservative line, waiting until the last moment to adapt to change. They resist change at every turn, believing in the intrinsic value of “tradition”. They tend to be backward looking, remembering the “good old days” and ignoring the here and now.

They do gain some advantage in being able to learn from others mistakes and successes. Unfortunately for them, if they face competition change may come too late to survive.

If they have a monopoly then it is time to pity their poor customers for having to suffer products and services befitting the era of their parents or grandparents. If they are a government entity then pity the poor country as it loses competitiveness in an ever freer global trading environment.

Some go along with the flow, not resisting change but not embracing it. They take a somewhat conservative line, sensing their operating environment so as not to fall too far behind the change and organising themselves to ensure that the change has a low impact on their organisation.

Others though, embrace change, sensing that the time is right to make bold changes and chase audacious goals. With a combination of internal drive, common goals and inspirational leadership these organisations add to the pressure other organisations feel to make change happen also.

The role of leaders in an organisation that embraces change is paramount. The stresses and strains placed on a leader are immense and usually underestimated.

The impact of this underestimation is that many times leaders fail. They do not have the focus, the sense of, and ability to create order, the tolerance for uncertainty, the human touch and the sheer stamina required to see the change through.

Leading change requires focus on the end game. It’s like staring in a candle when all that can be seen is the bright burning flame of the end result. The end result must be able to be communicated simply and readily understood. If it cannot be expressed in a single sentence then it is unlikely to be understood.

The road to the end result must be clear. It does not have to be expressed in a level of detail that requires a two thousand line Microsoft Project plan. What must be clear are the next steps and the means by which the following steps will be determined.

The end game and the next steps for sixty to ninety days must be clear. Each individual in the organisation can then contribute to either the next sixty to ninety days of action or further planning to get closer to the end game.

The role of a leader is not only to arrange the resources to plan and execute the next steps but to provide comfort to others who are unable to cope with the ambiguity of a change project.

Ambiguity always arises in a change project as change is as much about people’s behaviour as it is about process and policy. The very starting of a change project will create a change in behaviour from fear or anxiousness or eagerness. The behavioural impact of changes made will always therefore be ambiguous and changes will inevitably be made to well thought through plans which did not work.

Most people cannot cope with ambiguity. The leader needs to refocus the team and provide the emotional surety that solutions can be found.

Leaders of change need to be able to demonstrate a wide range of styles during a change programme. Autocratic and democratic styles will work during different phases of change as will being a facilitator or a coach, but at all times a leader must show a human touch.

Leaders must be able to show that even in making tough decisions they understand the impact on people. That is, not to shy away from the decision, but to show empathy. Leaders have to show this human touch and not expect words to be enough.

Leaders of change are on show all the time. They must remain focused, positive and encouraging. Even the slightest lapse can put a project back months or in some cases be terminal. It takes great stamina to lead significant change.

Leading change is tough and lonely but also rewarding as true leaders of change will witness the development of other leaders following in their footsteps. When that happens, it is worth being on show 24×7.

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