Overwhelmed by change? Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Continuous, complex change is the nature of the business. As a leader, it’s your job to navigate the waters and guide others to do the same. But success requires more than basic navigation skills — you need the confidence and know-how to handle the unexpected, difficult challenges that will come.

Many senior leaders and leadership teams with great track records are surprised to find themselves struggling with change and facing change failures. What worked before isn’t working now.

“It may be time to ask for help,” says CCL’s Bill Pasmore, author of the new book, Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World.

Pasmore has been a “change adviser” for many clients, as have many of his CCL colleagues. Bringing in outside help can take different forms — individual or team coaching, development programs, facilitation, diagnosis, planning and support. A change adviser can help you see what is going on, what is needed and how you can go about it.

You and your team are good candidates for hiring an external change adviser if you say “Yes” to most of these statements:

  • I need a better roadmap. Most executives are not change experts — they have taken a course or read books or learned a change model, but they are not devoted to understanding organizational change. A change adviser should understand change — deeply. He or she should know what effective change requires and be able to point out when the current plan is likely to fall short and why. To assess whether you need a new roadmap for change, ask yourself the following questions and answer as truthfully as you can. Are we changing fast enough? Are we paying attention to the right priorities? Do we have a clear plan of action or are we just undertaking projects as they come up? Are people committed or resisting? Are some people or departments overloaded? Can we handle even more change if it’s necessary without dropping the ball on existing efforts?
  • I understand I am responsible for leading change. Change advisers do not lead the change; that responsibility rests with the senior leader and his or her team.
  • I am interested (really) in learning about and considering options. Change advisers should bring alternatives to the attention of leaders — and leaders should genuinely be open to new information, ideas and approaches to achieving success in the face of complex, continuous change. If you are set on a solution, you are wasting your time and will not benefit from new insight, structures or mindsets.
  • I recognize the value of an external expert. A change adviser brings an external perspective. He or she is not part of the history, does not have a deep investment in the status quo, and is not afraid to question things or propose different ways of working.
  • I want an outsider to research, gather information and interpret. Effective change advisers have skills in observation, data collection and interpretation. They find ways to understand what is really happening by listening to a variety of voices, understanding patterns, paying attention to objective data and listening to the things people really care about. They can’t help you if you won’t let them in.
  • I want to build a trusted relationship. A change adviser should not breeze in and out; nor should you expect a surface-level relationship or solution. Give the process and relationship the time and attention needed to establish credibility and build trust between you, your team and the change adviser.
  • I don’t expect to be told what to do. A change adviser will have an approach and an opinion (Pasmore’s book goes through a model with four activities and the mindsets that support them, for example), but he or she should will not tell you what to do. The adviser should educate you, but more important, engage you in a discussion regarding the ways things could be done. Flexibility, openness and ability to shift and adjust are important for everyone involved in leading change.
  • I realize there is no guarantee of success. Leading complex, continuous change isn’t easy for anyone. Even when a change adviser is helpful, the organization may be facing more change than it can possibly manage with the amount of time and resources available.
  • I believe I can learn to do the work of change for myself and my organization. “Once the processes and structures are in place and operating effectively, the key thing I bring is my external perspective,” explains Pasmore. “The rest they can do for themselves.”

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