Don’t Overlook the People Side of Change

All types of organizations give change top priority, but studies consistently show between 50-70% of change efforts fail.

It doesn’t bode well for organizational ambitions if such efforts are — at best — just as likely to fail as they are to succeed.

How can leaders and organizations improve the odds of success? We found that many organizations have mastered the operational or structural side of change, but give little effort to the people side of the equation.

To gain the desired results from a new direction, system, or initiative, organizations need the benefit of change leadership along with change management.

What is Change Leadership?

Change leadership is about how people work and how they feel about the work. It’s about the phases of change — and the emotions associated with those phases — that people must navigate when change is constant.

Change leadership requires leaders, and the organization as a whole, to address and develop the practices, behaviors, mindsets, and beliefs that help people adapt.

infographic: change leadership

When organizations master change management without change leadership, they ignore employees’ current values.

For example, when introducing a shift, leaders typically say what’s wrong with the old, current way, and then leap right into selling the new strategy, process, or system.

Leaders often tout changes with the attitude of this shiny, bright new thing will solve all of our problems. But employees have been working with the “old” and have committed a lot of time and energy to making it work. Leaders should recognize that there is still value in some of the old before employees are able to move ahead to what isn’t working and why changes need to happen.

Answering the question of “What do we need to hold on to?” will help satisfy the fears and concerns that a new initiative is uncalled for or inappropriate.

Leaders also need to allow a conversation about what scares people about the new. By giving time and attention to helping people understand and adjust to changes, leaders allow them to move ahead to what’s next.

5 Steps to Navigating Change Leadership

Once you see that part of your job is to lead the people side of change — alongside being a manager of the operational side — you’ll want to find tools and hone skills to help you lead effectively.

Ideas from our Navigating Change program include:

1. Understand people’s built-in reactions. People navigate changes from a continuum of style preferences. If you pay attention to change preference, you’ll be more prepared to address concerns, leverage different contributions, avoid pitfalls, and adapt your own approach.

2. Get your head around the process. When you understand the process of change, you have a better picture of what is needed and when. You can anticipate and mitigate many predictable problems. We break down the process into 4 parts: Discover, Decide, Do, and Discern.

3. Embrace the polarity. When leading change, it helps to understand that it isn’t a problem to solve, but a polarity to manage. Leaders must both ensure that the current business model is solid, efficient, effective, and stable and implement the changes necessary to be more competitive in the future. By seeking the sweet spot of “both/and,” you can present the effort in a way that others can embrace.

4. Hone your powers of persuasion. Change and influence are inextricably linked. Influence is about gaining commitment, identifying the critical change agents that must be brought on board, and defining what “buy-in” looks like from each stakeholder.

5. Take care of yourself. Resiliency helps people handle the pressure, uncertainty, and setbacks that are part of the process. You need to build your own reserves and resiliency for your mental and physical health, and help others to do the same. This is increasingly important as people experience the cumulative effects of ongoing and often turbulent changes.

We offer a 2-day Navigating Change course to help managers guide their teams through current changes. Participants work with peers and CCL experts, learn their personal preferences, are immersed in a simulation activity, and plan how to apply — and sustain — what they learn.

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