Leading your team through change

by: Adrian O'Gara

Why Change?

If change is the only constant, then why do we resist it and continue to fail?

Here's the short answer:

"Over 70 percent of change programs fail—largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. When people are truly invested, change is 30 percent more likely to stick."
— McKinsey (and many similar studies)

There are lots of reasons why people resist change—one of the more obvious—we are creatures of habit. A deeper explanation would uncover our need for survival, belonging and self-esteem. And these same needs, when met, can lead to people truly investing in change. It becomes difficult to invest in something, however, when many around you are resisting the change.

For example, people may not support a change program that is forced upon them from senior leadership. Or there is a lack of support to manage the resistance coming from their team. If your people have a ‘grey’ or closed attitude to change then you are more likely to fail. So how do you create a ‘green’ or open attitude to change in yourself, your team and your organization?

How To Lead Change?

Here are my top three ways to lead change:

  • Bring teams together around a common purpose—including a set of goals, values, or vision
  • Keep everyone engaged and informed during periods of change
  • Improve collaboration within and across teams—to breakdown silos and create interdependence

This is easier said than done, so here are my five steps to achieve the above.

1. Notice Your Response To Change

It has to start with you, your mindset and attitude to change and your conscious awareness to what is going on within and around you. You may be worried about the change. Notice it and own it. Feel free to share this with others in a constructive way. Are you going to be closed or open to the change.  Which of the following ways would you say or want to hear from others?

Option One:

"Each year management comes up with a new initiative. Why would this year be any different? As usual, hardly anybody really understands what it’s all about. And whenever we face a real problem with a customer, management is far away.”

Option Two:

“Management regularly creates new initiatives. When they announced this year’s strategy, I made sure to ask my manager all relevant questions. Getting my team involved wasn’t that difficult once I understood the big picture.”

I hope you say and hear option two more than one.  Either way, it's a shift from a closed mindset to an open mindset.

“If you want to change, you have to change twice. You not only need to change the reality of your situation, you also need to change your perception of this reality.”
— Luc de Brabandere, Fellow & Senior Advisor, The Boston Consulting Group

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2. Authentic Dialogue

One of the biggest challenges with change is a lack of open and authentic dialogue. Lack of communication leads to the whispers in the corridors. Leaders who increase their self-awareness and interpersonal skills can enable their team to do the same. Increasing emotional fluency with open and constructive dialogue. Start by providing a safe environment where leaders and teams can explore and openly discuss their thoughts and feelings with regards to a workplace issue or new initiative. This can greatly reduce resistance to change. It also allows people to consider alternative scenarios for success—previously obscured by ill-informed assumptions—like fear, personal rivalries, or organizational roadblocks. So focus on improving your listening skills and emotional fluency.

“By paying attention to feelings and needs, authentic communication helps cultivate the sense that ‘I matter, you matter, we matter’, which can improve relationships, build team spirit and contribute to the growth of the organization.”
— Martha Lasley, Founding partner at Leadership that Works

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3. Conscious Leadership

Identify stress-induced autopilot reactions, in yourself and others, and move beyond being simply guided (and limited) by your unconscious motives, assumptions and beliefs. You are then able to take objective, conscious and constructive action, leading to significant benefits for both yourself, your team and your organization. This leads to an increase in self-awareness and developing a clearer sense of purpose to lead your team.

Focus on the building blocks of human interaction that connect us all: emotions, reactions and behaviors. Encouraging an understanding of these behaviors, provide insights into how to change them, and explore the effect this can have in the workplace. Equip yourself with tools to understand the intrinsic motivation of yourself and your people, and offers your colleagues insights into how their own communication style and interactions with other people can contribute to a common sense of purpose. This will remove communication obstacles so everyone can work more effectively.

“Too often...we remain stuck in old patterns of seeing and acting. By encouraging deeper levels of learning, we create an awareness of the larger whole, leading to actions that can help to shape its evolution and our future.”
— Peter Senge, Director of the Center for Organizational Learning, MIT Sloan School of Management

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4. Courageous Conversations 

I believe that the benefits of authentic communication can best be achieved by infusing an environment of trust throughout an organization. This is not something that is best achieved through theoretical discussion or role-playing. I wouldn’t suggest it be ordained or imposed by top management. At best, it’s lived and practiced by both leaders and their teams. It’s particularly vital for geographically dispersed or virtual teams where the lack of face-to-face interaction can make it difficult to feel engaged.

Everyone can feel empowered and free to engage in courageous conversations with their peers and leaders in order to address the fundamental and underlying issues in any given situation. Then amazing things happen.

“As I define it, courageous conversations are heartfelt conversations around challenging, crucial, and pivotal topics. It's having the willingness to discuss processes and ideas that really matter, without fear of reprisal.”
— David Whyte, Poet, Author, Lecturer

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5. Boost employee engagement

By engaging employees around organizational or strategic issues, you can energize participants to focus on successful outcomes. This mounting energy feeds further engagement. Engaged people are more likely to achieve their objectives and have a positive influence on their environment and those around them. Each successful outcome builds confidence, and this positive energy can then be employed in solving future issues.

“Study after study indicates that employee emotions are fundamentally related to and actually drive bottom-line success in a company. Emotions are directly connected to whether our needs are met or unmet.”
— Steve Bates, Editor, SHRM

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.What next?

Real leadership includes the ability to support people moving from grey to green thinking and doing. In times of change, these interpersonal skills become evermore crucial. If you want to improve your ability to lead other we need to start with being able to lead ourselves. Seeing that we have a conscious choice in how we react to people and our environment is incredibly powerful. The key is to provide leaders, and their people, with tools to remind them of these conscious choices. There are many ways to learn more about your reactive behaviors—beliefs, assumptions, drivers and triggers—to support yourself and help others to find and express theirs too.

To put this into practice, join us in London on 31 March for a one-day workshop on leading your team through change.


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