Change is a constant in today’s work place but that doesn’t make it any easier for us humans to deal with. When facing change employees look to their leaders to see them through, and as leaders we have the opportunity to make change positive for our people. Workers may be loathed to leave the familiarity of their daily routine and comfort zone, and be hesitant or fearful that they will not be able to cope. It is with a positive attitude that leaders will persuade staff to embrace change and gain much.
“A LEADER IS ONE WHO KNOWS THE WAY, GOES THE WAY AND SHOWS THE WAY”-LAOTZU.
Change is complex and challenging but a work place that does not evolve cannot be competitive, successful or thrive. Change under the correct leadership can be the catalyst to innovation, improved organizational functionality, increased competitiveness, higher financial performance and greater customer satisfaction. For employees change under correct leadership can enhance skills development, performance and personal growth. Positive, innovative and visionary leadership result in sustainable change.
The role of leadership in organizational change
“OUR CHIEF WANT IS SOMEONE WHO WILL INSPIRE US TO BE WHAT WE KNOW WE COULD BE”-RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
More than ever, the role of leadership is of tantamount importance. Organizational leadership plays the key role in the evolution and growth of a business. A good leader helps employees face and embrace the challenges of change, while working towards organizational goals in a worthy way. The strategic role of a leader in change can include: allocation of resources; alignment; vision; deciding on the future focus of the business; gaining commitment and motivation from the team; and achieving sustainable growth. Successful change is reliant on effective and intelligent leadership. A leader’s foot prints should be everywhere.
Since 2019, COVID changed the way we live and work. Even without a global pandemic other organizational changes could be things such as different reporting lines, restructuring and changes in the number of employees. Many structural changes are being implemented as companies adopt a hybrid workplace where employees rotate in and out. This has, and will, transform a company’s culture, engagement and the way business gets done. Demographics have also changed with innovations in health care resulting in an increased multigenerational workforce. It is essential to adapt and be innovative in creating productive and united teams. There is also a focus and prioritization on diversity and inclusion in the workplace to combat discrimination and cultural bias.
Technological advances, changes in legislation, shifts in customer expectations and service, business decisions and diversification, all bring change that need to be responded to by leaders and their strategic initiatives. A “positive change strategy” results in rewards being reaped despite organizations being in uncharted waters.
Positive benefits of change in the workplace.
With change, you must anticipate that people are going to resist. As humans, we are wired to resist change, preferring the status quo, routine and a sense of security. A change results in psychological and physiological reactions in people. The unknown is uncomfortable, and our brains will tend to seek familiarity. If employees are not supported in change it can lead to demotivation, resistance, resentment, loss of talent, job insecurity and poor performance.
It is the leader’s role to make, implement and drive successful change. Change can have a positive impact by adding value or transforming situations and people. Research indicates that an adaptable individual can flex their personality to continue to perform in a changing context. Adaptable employees can tap into the behaviours and mindsets needed to be both disciplined and creative, thoughtful and expressive, spontaneous and logical. These characteristics of being agile, flexible or versatile bring benefits not only to themselves, but also to the whole team. Critically studies show that adaptability is something that we can learn, develop and grow.
So what can you as a leader do to make your people, teams and business adaptable and flexible? Some key behaviours to implement successful change for leaders should be:
Have a vision and innovative approach:
Having a clear vision of where the organization is heading, aligning the team and clearly mapping the destination clearly gives direction and motivation to your people to face and conquer the challenges of change.
Communication is always key. Without clear communication and repetition of core messages, many will struggle to positively involve themselves in change. Communication elicits better employee engagement and relations. You need to communicate the WHAT and the WHY of the change.
To be truly authentic is to behave in a way so that needs are met. It’s a dance between staying true to values while being flexible and malleable. By leading with clarity and authenticity you can build a strong work culture and climate.
Celebrate small wins:
Leaders who celebrate and appreciate goals achieved by their employees and subordinates motivate their teams. Frequently give recognition and rewards, to maintain enthusiasm and boost confidence.
Be proactive about change:
As a leader you have to always be fit for the future, the onus is on you to be a forward thinker. Develop a futuristic mindset that scans the horizon for change. One needs to be proactive and preempt the changes before they occur. Looking back and applying past experiences and predicting the future shifts will put you on the front foot. Keep current, fail fast when appropriate and recover quickly.
Collaborate and include employees in change:
As a leader you need employees to trust and respect you so you can inspire and motivate. Scout out the innovative thinkers in the organization and collaborate with them including them in change plans. Empower the employees to act consistently with the new vision and help sustain commitment to it. Encourage them and adapt your strategy to suit your employee’s needs.
Find change agents and champions:
Change agents can be internal such as managers or employees. It is the individual or group who takes the task of initiating and managing change in an organization. As a leader you need to identify change agents as they are vital to successful transformation. The following traits are desirable in change agents: experience, expertise, access, flexibility, representative characteristics, enthusiasm, organizational knowledge and influence
Foster psychological safety:
Leader-Member relationships are key to the success. Trust is earned and as leader you need to attract employees and subordinates. A supportive management style, not a dictative style, would give the desired result. Grow your empathy by putting yourself into other’s shoes. People working in psychological safe environments feel: included, accepted and respected. When people are respected they give more than their hands or the day to day grind, they are invested and give their minds and heads as well.
Create mechanisms for support and feedback:
Throughout change make employees feel supported. Make time for open discussion of problem areas, things that are going well and honest questions. Offer formal coaching and access to counseling. Informal support may involve a cup of coffee, regular check ins, practice active listening and have an open door policy. Be available, be approachable. Effective feedback is critical and helps people grow, adapt, and become better versions of themselves within change.
Reinforce job security:
When things change people feel insecure, leaders must reassure them that their jobs are not under threat. Job security is knowing that your job is safe and having the assurance that you will be able to work in your current employment for the for seeable future. As an employer you can increase job security for employees. Encourage learning and development, upskilling, lead with pragmatism and resilience.
If you are a leader that understands the need for and benefit of change and the value of your people, you will be the organization that stands above competition and you will succeed in the ever changing environment of business. Take bold steps and foster your ability to be an agent of change. This is an ever green skill you can develop for yourself and your organisation.