Leading change can be a difficult task, but it’s necessary for growth. Still, the capacity to do so effectively has never been more essential. That brings me to an important point: Benjamin Franklin was wrong. But how does the founding father tie into the need for organizations to prepare for change? Allow me to explain.
In November 1789, Franklin wrote that only two things are certain in life – death and taxes. While it’s true that both are unavoidable, the famous statesman forgot to mention something that’s just as inevitable but occurs far more frequently: Change.
How sure is the promise of continuous change? So much so that Aristotle argued that time does not exist without it. And yet, despite its pervasive nature, many are still caught off guard when it disrupts their lives. That’s the thing about change – it doesn’t care if you’re ready and will never ask permission. It simply arrives unannounced, uninvited, and at the worst possible time.
Change poses a greater risk to organizations today than ever before. As the pace of technological innovations quickens, we find ourselves caught in a whirlwind of transformation that’s accelerating exponentially. PwC found that nearly 40% of CEOs worldwide believe their companies must undergo significant changes over the next decade to remain economically viable.
Yet, even amidst these challenges lies opportunity. Leaders who grasp the inherent nature of change and possess the skills to manage it have the potential to propel their companies to new heights. With that said, leaders who navigate difficult times will surely win a few battles, but those willing to fight alongside their team in the trenches of change will turn the tide of war.
When leading change, a leader’s primary responsibility is not giving orders or managing resources but steering the team through the turbulence while ensuring everyone is safe, secure, and moving in the right direction. It’s less about exerting control and more about fostering adaptability, resilience, and empathy.
So, how can we start leading change more effectively and ensure we are on the right path? Let’s dissect it one step at a time.
Step 1: Inspire Through Vision
What’s the primary difference between a boss and a leader? Inspiration. While the boss has the authority attached to the title, the leader has the hearts and minds of the people. A leader’s ability to inspire others when leading change is critical. By painting a compelling vision of the future, leaders can rally their teams and ignite their passion. When employees understand why change is necessary and how it aligns with the organization’s values and overarching goals, they are more likely to eventually embrace it.
Step 2: Lead From the Front
A principle of great leadership is never asking someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Leaders should always lead from the front, but this is especially true during times of uncertainty. For example, if leaders expect employees to adapt to change, they must be willing to do so themselves. This can be as simple as adopting emerging technologies or as complex as changing their leadership style to meet the evolving needs of their teams.
Step 3: Define the Strategy
Many leaders believe a compelling vision is all they need to achieve their goal, but it’s not. Without a well-defined strategy for executing that vision, change is nothing more than chaos disguised as progress. Influential leaders develop strategic plans outlining the specific steps and goals of the change journey. This plan serves as a roadmap for the organization and its employees, guiding them through the uneven terrain of the transition process. By breaking down the change into manageable milestones and setting clear expectations, leaders help their teams navigate the path forward with confidence and purpose.
Step 4: Relentlessly Communicate
Communication is the cornerstone of successful change initiatives. During transitions, people get anxious about their jobs and the organization’s future. Leaders must be adept at conveying information, ideas, and updates to their employees. They should encourage open, honest dialogue and welcome questions, concerns, and feedback. By fostering transparent communication channels, leaders create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration, ensuring that everyone is informed throughout the change journey.
You may say, “That’s easier said than done, but how does it work in the real world?” There’s a communication framework I believe in and frequently share with many of the leaders I work with. The most important thing to remember when leading change is that you can never update your employees enough. Here’s a variation of that framework: it’s not meant to be used once and forgotten about – it should become a routine. Answering these questions will calm the minds of employees, prevent rumors from spreading, and lead to a smoother transition:
- Where are we?
- Where are we going?
- What exactly do we need to change?
- Why do we need to change?
- How will we benefit?
- How will this change benefit our clients/customers?
Step 5: Provide Consistent Support
Change can be unsettling and affect employees’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Effective leaders understand this and offer guidance, resources, and training to help employees develop the skills and confidence needed to adapt. Leaders must be attentive to their teams, recognizing and addressing any anxieties or resistance that may arise. Providing consistent support empowers employees to feel the change is happening with them instead of to them.
Leaders often make unforced errors by declaring sweeping changes without considering the individuals tasked with implementing them. Why does this happen? Often, leaders are so hyper-focused on the end goal that they forget the human element that drives organizational progress. Neglecting the people responsible for enacting the change can lead to disengagement, resentment, and failure. According to a 2019 report by McKinsey & Company, 70% of change initiatives fail, often due to employee resistance.
It’s imperative for leaders to recognize that success hinges on nurturing a supportive culture, fostering open communication, and empowering their teams to embrace the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead. Only by considering and addressing employees’ concerns, motivations, and aspirations can leaders forge a unified front and pave the way for lasting and impactful change.
Step 6: Maintain a Growth Mindset
Change is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. By acknowledging that it’s an intrinsic part of life and business, leaders can help their teams develop the mindset and skills necessary to embrace new ideas, approaches, and technologies. It’s essential to create an environment where people are not afraid to take risks and make mistakes; only then will challenges be seen as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles. By fostering a growth mindset and promoting innovation, leaders create an atmosphere where change becomes a core part of the organization’s DNA. Microsoft is an excellent example. When Satya Nadella took over as CEO in 2014, he adopted the term “Growth Mindset” as one of the cultural foundations required for accelerated growth.
Leading Change: Sparking a Larger Conversation
Diving into the depths of these six steps, we find ourselves treading the waters of a profound philosophical discussion on leadership and the nature of change. Leadership, in its truest form, is not about setting rigid rules or clinging to the old ways. Instead, it dances with the rhythmic waves of change that Aristotle himself recognized as the very essence of time itself.
And then we come to Benjamin Franklin, whose take wasn’t so much wrong as it was incomplete. Let’s consider the three inevitabilities of life: the grim reaper, the taxman, and the ever-present shadow of change. Of the three, only change demands our enduring commitment, capacity to bend without breaking, and tireless drive to push forward. So, it’s time we reframe change: it’s no longer a storm we must weather but rather a chisel we use to carve out our future.