Shifting to a new paradigm in navigating change

Shifting to a New Paradigm in Navigating Change

Navigating change in business can be challenging for leaders, but here are 5 steps leaders can take to elevate their success.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” For leaders, this message means navigating change either preemptively or reactively. If only the decision were so simple.

Most industries are undergoing some type of transformation today. It’s not that this is a new phenomenon, but if you were to wonder, “Will this ever end?” you wouldn’t be alone. According to Gartner, the average employee has experienced ten planned enterprise changes in the past 12 months alone. The dilemma: Ongoing transformation is the norm, but most leaders approach change management as though it were an event instead of an ongoing process. The outcome of misinterpreting the mandate for change is fatigue, disengagement, and resistance.

All leaders need to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. But in the business world, the track record for successful change management is mixed at best. When it comes to navigating change, we know a great deal about what doesn’t work: Failing to develop a clear picture of the organization’s future state, failing to engage people across the organization in co-owning a future state vision or failing to create a deliberate road map between the current environment and future state. Navigating changes also fails if leaders don’t communicate frequently about progress and challenges in the journey, fail to re-engage the organization in their vision regularly, or fail to adjust the road map as conditions evolve.

Even with a well-documented body of knowledge about what doesn’t work, there is a shortage of success stories when it comes to change management victories. Still, every organization faces a continually changing operating environment.

In my book, Leading from Now: A Leader’s Guide to Navigating Change, I describe steps leaders can take to elevate their success with change management:

  • Embrace change management as a core element of leadership and own it: French philosopher Rene Descartes wrote that if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. In the context of continuous change, develop your organization’s understanding of leading change. Champion a vision of where the organization is going in the evolution of who you serve and how you deliver to your customers.
  • Recognize it for what it is: Change management can include process redesign, new tech and tools, or a refined go-to-market model. No matter what, there is always a behavioral change element to change management. And behavior change can be a challenge. According to Professor Megan Call at the University of Utah, “Behavior change is complicated and complex because it requires a person to disrupt a current habit while simultaneously fostering a new, possibly unfamiliar, set of actions. This process takes time, usually longer than we prefer.”  When leaders recognize part of their role in change management is to invite, support, and facilitate behavioral change, it can clarify what’s necessary to advance the business and traverse forces that reinforce the status quo.
  • Act accordingly: Understanding the core elements required to stimulate behavioral change, leaders can align their energy with actions to support team members. Taking steps to (1) align the change effort with a clear description of success, (2) create co-ownership in the change initiative, (3) initiate relevant task, behavioral and social communications, (4) earn and sustain engagement in bringing the future-state vision to life will enhance the organization’s change acumen.
  • Identify opportunities for self-initiated disruption: Disruption happens. It’s a natural force as industries evolve. Fifth-century BC, Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “All is flux.” Twenty-five hundred years later, innovators create industry disruption to address evolving customer needs, interests, and preferences. At the same time, many businesses allow change to take them by surprise. Knowing the dynamic nature of business and the continuous redefinition of “normal,” leaders have a decision to make — initiate change and innovate or react to external pressures. Self-initiated disruption serves two purposes. First, it preempts external disruption by existing competitors and new entrants to your business. Second, it grounds the organization in its reason for existing through the employees, customers, and stakeholders served.
  • Integrate preemptive change opportunity identification into regular business operating reviews: Broaden standard quarterly financial performance reviews to include conversations about indicators of changing customer needs, preferences, trends, operational improvement opportunities, new technologies applicable to your business, new vendor practices, and the like. This will identify seeds with the potential to grow into full-blown paradigm shifts for your organization.

Change is happening in your business right now. Why not step into change leadership as one of the standard tools in your leadership resource kit?

Originally published on SMARTBRIEF.COM May 15, 2024
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