“No leader ever got anything extraordinary done without the talent and support of others. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause”.
– James Kouzes & Barry Posner
The truth of the matter is that people don’t leave organizations. They leave people. You’ve often heard of people leaving their jobs because they believe their senior executives haven’t invested in them and don’t care about their problems. When an organization is frequently facing a high turnover rate, there’s a clear indication that something’s wrong and that something needs to change.
The problem is when things aren’t going well, everyone wants change, but few people want to change themselves or be a part of the change, and even fewer want to lead the change. So, how does change happen?
When I first started my business as an independent strategic consultant, I was hired to help companies tackle organizational issues. Companies were coming forth with a plethora of issues that required an immediate solution. However, it got me thinking. Were the solutions I was presenting sustainable and scalable? Had I attacked the root cause and would the leaders buy into my recommendations and maintain these changes?
These questions followed me around during my consulting career, where I grew to learn that you’re not solely consulting an organization, but also their leaders. Consulting was so much more than providing a quick short-term solution to an issue, but creating long-term solutions that often involved coaching and leading others.
Connecting with various senior management teams at a deeper level made me realize the significance of leading from the heart, and understanding people’s concerns, fears and motives around change.
A bad habit consultants may develop is giving recommendations and solutions without involving the people it impacts, leading to them missing the most important step. Therefore, their ideas may fall short, and will not be implemented as a long-term strategy that will have a lasting effect.
True organizational change happens when the people involved genuinely believe in the process. Consultants can only do so much compared to what the employees, on the inside of an organization, can. While external advisors can suggest and implement quick and easy changes, true organizational change begins when senior management and their employees buy into the need for change and are involved in the process.
So, How can you influence change?
The first step in bringing about change includes conducting community-based action research, which entails analyzing the impact that your change would bring to the individuals involved. Understand all of your stakeholders, as well as their positions and interests. This is crucial in influencing change because certain events or ideologies may differ from your own. One needs to understand the current culture and structure of the organization, as well as the relationships within. Then when you’ve fully understood your stakeholders, you can meet them where they’re at and begin implementing change, seeing things from each of their perspectives.
“A quality movie requires systemic participation in the snapshot. People need to describe their own gaps, make their own maps, find their own variances, instead of having consultants do it for them”.
– Marvin R. Weisbord
In my professional career, I teach others how to lead effectively through successful change management. My beliefs are shaped by my personal experiences, which include my upbringing, education, and professional background, as are yours. These experiences can cloud my judgment and objectivity. Therefore it’s important to provide an opportunity for the people within an organization to provide their input and feedback and share their lived experiences. This will establish a collaborative and supportive environment, where employees feel comfortable voicing any areas of concerns they may have. As a consultant, using this strategic approach gave me insight into how I could help leaders steer their people through change.
Simply put, when leading change
- Ask thought-provoking questions about your people’s feelings around the changes
- Listen actively, and then
- Act on their feedback.
I used to think that it was my job to only provide the right answers to my clients. Now, I realize that my job is also to ask the right questions – to coach. After all, a turnkey solution can only be so helpful if the employees of an organization don’t buy into it.
It is mostly an emotional task to build a genuine connection with your people, establishing a psychologically safe environment, where they feel comfortable sharing their feedback and ideas. Therefore, you must lead from the heart to instill and make changes that last.
By asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions, you can unleash a person’s potential, which ultimately impacts their teams’ and organization’s results. I have learned the power and benefits of actively listening to others, suspending my own assumptions and judgments, and letting others find the solutions that are inside them. As I have changed my approach to leading, so did my client’s outcomes. As Claxton expressed, “it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organization without changing ourselves”.
As I reflect and look back on my journey as a leader, I can firmly say that I’m proud of the internal and external changes I have made in my professional career.
As Senge stated, “People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’… [However], personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline”.
Though I’ve made huge strides in my leadership journey, I, too, have not arrived. Remember, life is a journey, not a destination and there is always room to grow and improve. Especially in leadership.
What is the biggest change you have made in your career? What triggered you to make such a change? How did you find leading change, especially during times of uncertainty?
If you need further support on leading people through change, book a call with me here; I’d love to listen and provide support in any way I can.
Or learn more about effective management and creating changes that stick through our Influential Leadership Keynote or about developing your communication skills through our Communicating with an Impact keynote.
Good change management requires the right mix of urgency and empathy.
– AJ Sheppard