The importance of leadership during change

By Brenda LaMarche | Guest Column

Successful change represents one of the biggest issues modern organizations face. In our fast-changing world, the strategic imperative to change is often clear: Without doing things differently, a company is unlikely to survive, let alone succeed.

I have seen policy change “ordered” within a business, but demanding it is a recipe for failure. Owners of a company cannot command change and then expect it to happen with no further guidance.

First, leaders need to address the 3 Cs of change before beginning the process.

Communicate. Unsuccessful leaders tend to focus only on the “what” behind the change. Explaining “why” and “how” it fits into the company’s values is as critical as communicating the what. Define the purpose of the change and connect it to the organization’s values or explain the benefits to create stronger buy-in and urgency.

Collaborate. Bringing people together to plan and execute change is critical. Work across boundaries, encourage employees to break out of their silos and refuse to tolerate unhealthy competition. Including employees in decision-making early on strengthens their commitment to change. Successful change leaders guide employees and engage them early and often. Including everyone in the discussions to define the change process increases the opportunity for optimal buy-in.

Commit. Successful leaders align their beliefs and behaviors to support change. They realize their role and the fact that change can be difficult. They demonstrate resilience, persistence and a willingness to step outside their comfort zone. They put in the time and focus on the big picture. Unsuccessful leaders are negative, inflexible and impatient.  Commitment is not the same as agreement. Your team must commit to making the change.

By leveraging the 3 Cs of change, your process is poised for successful implementation, but there are more steps to achieve successful change. First, you must lead the process:

Initiate. Effective change leaders begin by making the case for the change they seek. This can include evaluating the business context, understanding the purpose of the change, developing a clear vision and desired outcome and identifying a common goal. It is critical that everyone understands the common goal.

Strategize. Develop a strategy and a clear action plan, including priorities, timelines, tasks, structures, behaviors and resources. Identify what will change, but also what remains the same. This stabilizes the workforce and increases comfort levels, leading to commitment. Pull together participants from across the company to collaborate and build buy-in.

Execute. Translating strategy into execution is one of the most important things leaders can do. We’ve found that successful change leaders focus on getting key people into key positions — or removing them. They also break big projects down into small wins to build momentum and develope systems to measure progress.

You must also lead your people. Too many leaders neglect the human side of change, which takes effort. Attend to the following:

Support. Successful change is characterized by leaders who remove barriers to employee success. These include personal barriers, such as wounded egos and a sense of loss, as well as professional barriers, including time and resources. Avoid focusing exclusively on results.

Sway. Identify key stakeholders — management, board members, C-suite executives, clients and others — and communicate the company’s vision of successful change to every single one.  Talk to every influencer within the organization.

Learn. Finally, never assume you have all the answers. Ask questions and gather formal and informal feedback on what can be done to achieve results, allowing for adjustments. A third party can assist in gathering feedback and recognizing key needs that management may miss.

Implementation requires training, employee handbook updates and the resources to support the policy changes. Be sure to organize resources, such as tracking sheets, procedures, staffing, etc.

While there is more I could share from our experience with change management, following these simplified guidelines will enhance the change process for your company. •

Brenda LaMarche is president of BRL HR Consulting, a human resources consulting and outsourcing firm providing nationwide services, located in North Liberty.