Change in the workplace can be daunting for any individual, and for the leaders tasked with guiding an entire team through a transition, change can present a vast array of challenges. Inspiring a group of people to face the unknown with confidence and dedication is far from easy; a 2013 survey by the Katzenbach Center at Strategy& suggested that 56 percent of major corporate change initiatives do not succeed.
Today, companies across many industries are evolving faster than ever, driven in part by the new opportunities and challenges created by digital transformation. Although change may confront your organization in various forms—from the need to recruit new talent or reorganize an operational department to the implementation of entirely new strategic directions—the following tips can help you lead your organization to adapt to whatever comes its way.
1. Establish credibility through communication
In order to inspire confidence during a significant transition, business leaders must gain the trust of their teams. An effective way for leaders to establish themselves as honest and knowledgeable is to accurately convey all aspects of an impending change. By avoiding the urge to overemphasize positive points and taking care to honestly illustrate potential risks and challenges, leaders can help team members envision a realistic view of the impending change. Employees will be prepared to face the difficulties their superiors have presented while also trusting that the proposed benefits of the transition are just as likely to occur.
The assumption that higher-ups within a company hold exclusive knowledge about an impending change can fuel anxieties among lower-level team members. To avoid this, leaders should regularly communicate to team members the details, goals, and deadlines associated with current change initiatives. Additionally, leaders should be open to answering questions from their team, and might consider asking team members what support they’ll need during the transition.
2. Provide direction
While providing a broader vision for navigating change is an important way to inspire loyalty and motivation, leaders must also create a detailed plan to guide their organization through transitions. They should separate these initiatives into strategic objectives that build to major milestones toward an end goal, delegating specific responsibilities to team members based on their unique skills and knowledge. In times of change, it may be necessary to reassess and clarify certain job roles—the most important goal is to ensure that all employees fully understand how their efforts contribute to the organization’s successful transition. Framing company activities from a purpose-driven perspective is crucial not only to productivity but to morale as well.
3. Put things in perspective
Leaders can help team members view change in a broader context by relating it to past experiences. Encourage them to think about a time when they experienced a change that went positively despite their initial trepidation. Help them remember how their initial feelings or uncertainty and hesitation eventually gave way to comfort and optimism as they adapted. This can cause them to apply the lessons learned to their current workplace challenges.
4. Consider timing
In the business world, many changes occur without warning and are difficult to predict with 100 percent accuracy. However, leaders can still exercise control over the timing and pacing of their organization’s responses to change. Simply scheduling major announcements or project launches at the beginning of a working period—be it a day, fiscal quarter, or year—can help frame it as a new endeavor rather than a response to failure.
CEOs must also strike a careful balance between workload management and employee motivation when rolling out aspects of a larger-scale change. They should take care not to take on so much as to cause change fatigue, a real and common cause of failed business initiatives, while also setting enough achievable objectives to create a sense of sustained progress among team members.
5. Encourage unity
Fragmentation and miscommunication within companies are two common symptoms of ineffective change, as well as two of the most significant hindrances to any effective transition. Often, a company’s team members will become more isolated within their respective departments, holding fast to stability in times of change. Leaders should work to inspire a sense of unity throughout the whole company, as the feelings of belonging, loyalty, and cooperation that it facilitates only serve to streamline change.
A great way for leaders to encourage unity is to demonstrate it through their own behavior. When seeking to bring their teams together during a transition, leaders should strive to set a tone of mutuality whenever appropriate in workplace interactions, taking note of subtle cues such as tone and body language, as well as more obvious shows of cooperation and trust, such as a willingness to solicit and implement advice from employees.
Leaders should also take an active role in mitigating conflict, helping to smooth out miscommunications and disagreements to reach constructive solutions. When things are going well, leaders should also set aside time to celebrate the company’s accomplishments and specifically recognize individual successes and contributions. This will not only keep employees up to date on the progress toward change, but it will also help them take ownership in the organization’s achievements.