Leading through change isn’t easy. Not for individuals or businesses. Not for anyone. And when it comes to businesses, one of the most uncomfortable topics for leaders and employees is to talk about change. When employees hear the word, “change,” their bodies tense up with fear, worry, and “Oh, no! What’s going to happen to me?”
That is why one of the most difficult jobs for leaders is to not only execute transformative initiatives, but also conduct open and honest conversations about a particular change that will be taking place within the organization. A lot of leaders miss the mark completely from the very beginning because of their approach to change and how they communicate—or don’t communicate—the change from the start.
The facts are: Your success and level of impact as a leader is greatly determined by your organization’s ability to leading through change, adapt, and execute rapidly through ongoing upheavals. The organization and leader that possesses the ability to guide their teams through change more effectively than the competition will thrive now and in the future, regardless of pandemics, and world chaos.
A LOOK BACK ON THE IMPACT OF CHANGE THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
From the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and throughout 2021, companies small, medium, and large have had to adapt their business strategy and change quickly. There were many leaders and organizations that were so stuck in their old ways, that if the pandemic crisis didn’t wipe them out, their inability to adapt and change would eventually decrease their earnings and rob them of economic, productive growth.
We’re learning that as the economy has consistently rebounded in 2021, the extent of the damage from businesses not being able to adapt and change, has been profound. However, despite this, there are some encouraging signs. The business leaders and organizations who have adapted, who have embraced change, and those who have created new business opportunities have thrived.
How are they doing this? In a variety of ways. Business leaders who adapt and cater to home based work, new digital processes, “outside-the-box” thinking, or “throw-away-the-box” thinking, and other societal shifts are outpacing others who have tried to continue pre-pandemic.
CREATIVE DESTRUCTION: OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
According to an article in Time Magazine, there’s a proliferation of new business systems and technologies replacing outdated ones. It means destroying the “the box” way of thinking. In other words, you must completely eliminate the box. It means tossing out the old ways of working while thinking and creating new ones. This isn’t exactly a new process, but in 2021, it has become a new way of managing business. It is known as “Creative Destruction,” a term popularized by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in the 1940s. In an online article from Investopedia, the theory of Creative Destruction assumes that longstanding arrangements and assumptions must be destroyed to free up resources and energy to be deployed for innovation. Schumpeter believed economic development is the natural result of forces internal to the market and is created by opportunity to seek profit.
During the pandemic, major corporations including Disney had to adapt. Their business leaders had to think creatively and reimagine the movie industry. In an entertainment article on Quartz; Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, announced that the company had released the live-action Mulan via its Disney+ streaming service for an extra fee of $30. Chapek explained that the pandemic had forced the company to consider different ways to reach audiences beyond movie theaters. In other words, the company had to think creatively and not only “outside the box,” but eliminate the box altogether.
Leaders can learn from this. We have all witnessed the major success of the streaming services at home with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and more. And even though movie theaters have been reopening, audiences still have a choice whether they go to the theater to watch a movie on the big screen or watch it in the comfort of their own home.
What would have happened if Disney’s business leaders and teams had said, “No, we want to continue marketing our films the way we always have. It’s the Big Screen or No Screen.” That would have meant the loss of millions and millions of dollars. Instead, Disney’s leaders used their creativity to reimagine one of the most powerful business models in the world. This is one example of how business leaders have changed and adapted to an ongoing crisis that affected the world.
Executing change within an organization can mean a number of different things. Whether new leadership has taken over, or current leaders are driving creativity in different ways, we have witnessed a complete digital transformation. How employees work, socialize, entertain, shop, and live everyday lives, have changed. As a leader, your ability to embrace and execute change in your company is a key organizational imperative.
Here are a few ways that you, as a leader, can spearhead change more effectively and help team members navigate the discomfort that leading through change brings about.
1. COMMUNICATION, ENCOURAGEMENT, SUPPORT
The first common trap that leaders come across when it comes to change is their lack of preparation when it comes to discussing change. If you start preaching about what needs to change or how someone’s daily work will be different from what they did for the past twenty years, expect the message to fall flat. Leading through change more effectively and executing change initiatives starts with thoughtful, direct, and a human centered approach to communication. You have to understand that even though the change may be so simple and easy for you to understand, that is definitely not the case for everyone else.
A simple but extremely effective formula for leaders to consistently engage in is as follows:
- Communicate the change. Make a strong case for why the change is happening.
- Encourage your team by explaining how change benefits them directly.
- Listen to understand their concerns and how they can be supported.
- Respond with urgency to their concerns and the support needed.
- Tie everything back to them and their needs, which will benefit the company, making a strong case for the change.
2. EMBRACE DISCOMFORT
Successfully leading through change requires leaders to embrace the discomfort especially during the beginning stages.
Not long ago, I worked with a senior leadership team who experienced these discomfort issues. They were a month and a half in on a major change initiative that was going to change key internal processes. When the change was announced, employees were uncomfortable about the decisions. They were unhappy and resisted adopting the new business structure. It became so uncomfortable and challenging for even the senior leaders that they briefly thought about putting this change initiative on the back burner.
After careful consideration, the leaders decided to move forward but with the knowledge of how uncomfortable the team was. The leaders listened to the growing concerns. They answered questions. They offered support. The leaders explained in detail why the change was necessary, how it was going to benefit the efficiency of key internal processes in the company and showed specific examples of how it was going to make the lives of employees simpler and better. In the end, the change proved to be beneficial for everyone, and the company thrived.
Embracing the discomfort is vital because there is nothing easy about change. If leaders don’t embrace discomfort and resistance they will inevitably experience along the way, it’s nearly impossible to expect others to get on board. Think of it this way. When someone has a goal of losing weight, there is extreme levels of discomfort in the very beginning. Changing daily habits, hiring a coach, and removing guilty pleasures that brought so much satisfaction is hard to do. But those who are able to adopt new habits and stay consistent in their weight loss journey are those who are able to embrace the discomfort and get comfortable being uncomfortable. The same goes for leading change.
3. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
All change, whether negative or positive, provides a unique opportunity to advance to a higher level and become better than ever. There are two assumptions that first come to mind when people hear about a change that will be taking place. They either see the change as an opportunity to be better or they will see it as a burden that will take them out of their comfort zone. In all situations, the successful leader will utilize a high degree of emotional intelligence.
In the online article, Mind Tools, there is a focus on emotional intelligence, which is crucial for leaders when leading change. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect others. For leaders, increasing emotional intelligence is essential for executing change initiatives. According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who popularized the term, there are five key elements to it: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social Skills. By utilizing these five key elements, the leader will more effectively be able to highlight the opportunities that are created from the organizational change. When this is done at scale and repeated day in and day out, you will start gaining traction with shifting the behaviors and mindsets of employees.
A FINAL WORD
A lot of people say they hate change, but I disagree. I truly believe that everyone wants to change certain aspects of their life. The problem exists when they can’t imagine and visualize the benefits and opportunities that exist because they are stuck in the same-old mindset. They aren’t using their creative imaginations. They aren’t “reimagining” how things could be, and how the differences could be better for the company and themselves personally.
Show your team that opportunity exists for them and the organization. Create compelling themes and stories that paint a clear picture on why the change is not only necessary, but how it will personally benefit others. When the opportunities are articulated in a clear, compelling, and inspiring way, adoption and execution follows.