A change initiative can test the competence and endurance of even the best companies. One of the key differentiators that set successful companies apart is their ability to effectively manage change and position themselves to capitalize on future opportunities.
OnPoint Consulting’s research into the ways top-performing companies reveals some of the ways they prepare for and manage change. Effective organizations are characterized by cultures that are flexible, adaptive, participative, and innovative—and they operationalize these cultural attributes through leader behavior. Not surprisingly, leaders in top-performing companies utilize a number of strategies that allow them to manage change successfully.
4 Ways to Stay Ahead of Change Management
Get Comfortable With Managing Paradoxes
Change imposes difficult demands on leadership. In some cases, those demands come into conflict with one another. Just because an organization is rolling out a big change initiative that will transform the way it does business within a year doesn’t mean it can simply abandon its current day-to-day practices. Leaders in top-performing companies are adaptable enough to strike the right balance between what can sometimes appear to be mutually exclusive outcomes.
In 2012, the social commerce fashion website Polyvore faced just such a problem. As the site grew and set its sights on larger advertisers, those goals conflicted with the user experience the site had originally set out to provide. The leadership team had to implement a number of changes to steer the company back to its core value of delivering a great experience while also incorporating the advertising strategies that brought financial growth.
Use the Five Keys to Managing Change
In many change situations, organizations often neglect critical management elements. These oversights can contribute to rising costs, delayed implementation, or outright resistance from vested interests within the company. Even the best change initiatives can fall victim to the “commitment dip,” a drop-off in results that typically occurs after a month or two as people return to their normal duties and begin to lose focus and enthusiasm for change.
Leaders can overcome these challenges by keeping the five critical elements of change management in mind:
Go beyond making the business case.
Prioritize and coordinate change across the organization.
Allocate sufficient resources.
Be realistic about deadlines and due dates.
Focus on behaviors that need to change, not just change goals.
Involve Team Members in the Decisions That Affect Them
Participation is essential to effective change leadership. Imposing a top-down change on the people in an organization without involving them in any way or giving some consideration to how the changes will impact them is a surefire method for encountering resistance. Leaders don’t necessarily need to involve employees in every aspect of a change initiative, but they do need to give people the opportunity to voice their concerns and provide feedback about the process. Empathizing with employees is vital here; if no one feels like leadership cares about how the changes impact them, they are less likely to buy in and support the change.
But it’s more than just a matter of feelings. Oftentimes, the people most directly impacted by change aren’t consulted at all before changes are implemented, resulting in serious problems that might have been averted had leadership only taken the time to consult with them. In 2006, for example, the National Basketball Association introduced a new basketball after extensive research and development. Unfortunately, the NBA never asked the players for input during that process. As a result, the players found the new ball, which was made of a synthetic material rather than traditional leather, difficult and even uncomfortable to handle. Had the league Involved the players earlier, it would likely have resulted in a higher quality ball and more players accepting the idea of using a “new ball.”
Lead by Example
Leaders in top-performing companies understand that people will not trust or follow them if they do not live by the same values and support the same priorities they require of others. It’s one thing to tell people what they should be doing or how to best adapt to the latest changes; it’s quite another to set an example for behavior and performance under those circumstances. Leading by example helps to build credibility and makes it easier for leaders to convince employees to implement much-needed changes.
Highly-visible leaders who do their best to embody the values they promote find it easier to keep people inspired and engaged in their work. They also build trust among their teams more effectively and promote better collaboration, both of which are especially valuable qualities when guiding a team or organization through a difficult change situation.
Staying on top is a challenge in the best of times. It’s even more difficult when an organization is forced to undergo difficult changes. The most successful companies have effective and resourceful leaders who find ways to distinguish themselves in good situations and bad. Having a capable leadership team in place is absolutely essential to change management and serves as one of the key differentiators between top-performing companies and their less successful brethren.