Don’t Overlook the People Side of Change

Studies consistently show between 50-70% of change efforts fail. How can leaders and organizations improve the odds of success?

While many organizations focus on mastering the operational or structural side of change, they give little attention or effort towards the other half of the change equation: the people side of change.

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

Put another way, for an organizational change to be implemented successfully, leaders must focus on solving both sides of the change equation.

How Does Change Leadership Connect to the Change Equation?

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 for the change equation

When organizations master change management without change leadership, they ignore employees’ current values, create change fatigue, and fail to recognize that all changes, even positive ones, come at a cumulative cost.

They miss half the change equation.

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. This is key in becoming a successful change leader.

Tips for Solving the Change Equation

Once you understand that you must lead the people side of change — along with managing the operational side — you fully understand the change equation. Now, you’ll want to find tools and hone skills to help you lead the change equation more effectively. Here are 5 key tips:

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 of succeeding at complex, continuous change 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. Learn the 4 keys to strengthen your ability to influence others.

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.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help your people understand the change equation with Live Online Custom Leadership Training tailored to your organization’s challenges. Available topics include Leading Through Change, Innovation & Breakthrough Thinking, Leadership Communication, and more.

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