For an organisation to thrive, its people need to change at the same pace that the leaders are moving. However, we know that not everyone is willing to get on-board easily. There's uncertainty, inertia, and fear of the unknown. Leaders know this outcome well: unsuccessfully managed change has been shown to lead to greater disengagement, disillusionment, and disappointment in the leaders and the organisation.
Based on our experience of navigating change alongside clients, there are 4 things leaders should absolutely avoid when they’re leading change.
1. Not Communicating a Meaningful “Why”, “How” and “Where”
In social science research, there are two different modes of cognition; one rooted in rational analysis and one in metaphors and stories. There’s value in plain straightforward facts, but leaders recognise that there’s a limit in how much facts can influence people. For facts to mean something to people, they must be made influential through a good storyline that supplies context and meaning. For this reason, storytelling is becoming a coveted leadership skill, and all the more so in change management. Before communicating, consider having your change pitch include these aspects:
Why is the change happening?
How will it affect individuals, teams and the organisation?
Where will the entire organisation be after the transition?
As an additional step, a roadmap or timeline will aid in providing a clearer and vivid picture painted for yourself and your employees. Without laying the foundation for change with these essentials, initial cynicism may be deepened and resistance intensified.
2. Not Showing That You Care
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Change can make people feel threatened as they may feel a sense of loss and lack of control. While undergoing transitions, employees will be pushed out of their comfort zones to accept new ideas and implementations against their desires.
Worse still, speculations of retrenchment and role uncertainty could potentially start, causing distress and panic that may spread like wildfire. Some of these individual concerns might be familiar to you:
“Will my position be made redundant?”
“What will the organisation’s future look like?”
“What if I can’t catch up with the changes?”
Leaders might be in the hot seat themselves and therefore lose sight of their team’s welfare. It's so easy to say, “I don’t have time for this” when it involves people management. Dealing with tasks seems more palatable in a transitionary period when outcomes need to happen swiftly and we need to feel in control.
Showing true concern is about taking time to slow down and to listen deeply to the people around you. Courageously engaging your team in real conversations might lead to some emotional moments, but those are authentic and should be encouraged. On the contrary, I would be very concerned if people were not bothered at all; wouldn't you? If I see an employee who is angry with the change, I can find out what's really bothering him and explore solutions together, thus increasing my chances of getting him on-board. Comparatively, someone who is indifferent might not voice out real issues, therefore leaving me with little opportunity to engage him.
These conversations about change might be regurgitative and hard to manage, but they should be your top priority in a change process.
3. Not Apart, but a Part of Change
Due to the nature of hierarchy, leaders are usually perceived to be on another level that’s difficult for executives to communicate to. All the more so during change, the gap between leaders and employees is even wider and harder to bridge.
At such moments, it’s crucial for leaders to enlist employees by actively involving them in decisions and change processes. There's no substitute for hands-on experience and active participation. Some ways to engage your team include:
- Inviting them to give feedback, even when there is no particular trigger event. The feedback could be just about their daily observations in the workplace. They might have improvement suggestions or ideas!
- Consulting them on challenges that arise in the change process
- Having regular check-in conversations to find out how they’re feeling, not what they've been doing
- Involving them in handling different facets of the change process, which will foster ownership and accountability
Providing communication platforms is one of the best ways to encourage active engagement and participation when your eyes and ears cannot be everywhere at anytime. Suggestion boxes, polls and team meetings are some useful channels for mass consolidation of feedback. All these show that you value their voice.
4. Forgetting to Measure and Celebrate Progress
When you have a big goal ahead of you, it's easy to feel like you’re not making enough progress or that you may never make it to the finish line. To prevent feelings of defeat, it’s important to measure the change progress, which is also a way of letting the team know where they are.
Some ways to do this are:
- Talk about key metrics right from the start, letting the team know what the big goals are
- Create signages or dashboards to keep your team informed. This will offer transparency, giving them a way to see how their efforts have made a difference to the company. In addition, focusing on visible metrics will help create feelings of collaboration and suppress speculations.
- Celebrate incremental successes (small wins) along the way. Making time for such celebrations will recharge and refresh your team; think of these celebrations as energy bars that boost a runner in a long-distance race!
Want to know more about change and what to avoid doing? Read our 9 Enablers of Change to increase your competence and confidence in leading change in your organisation!