Leading Through Change

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Winston S. Churchill

When chatting with one of my management friends the other day, he expressed the sentiment that the staff was frustrated by the constant change. Changes in our organization structure, changes in our product direction, changes in our project plans, changes to our insurance options, you name it, if it had “change” in the sentence it was a source of frustration.

While I empathized with the confusion that change can cause in the short-term, I expressed my thought that it is up to us as a leadership team to be able to understand, explain, and stand behind the reason for these changes. Most change is a response to the current business climate and/or our customers changing needs. We all live in a world of constant change and that change is coming faster than ever before. As a leader it is our responsiblity to be able to articulate and paint the vision of the future so that our staff can understand where we are headed.

In an effort to find others who thought as I did, I used my friendly tool Google, and I found the following blog on leadership during change. I’ve include the link along with a short excerpt. http://www.greatleadershipbydan.com/2012/04/how-leaders-can-build-change-friendly.html

“..Think Sherpa. Leaders today need to focus less on traditional methods of strategy and more on preparing people for a very different kind of technical climb: Achieving and sustaining competitive advantage amidst short life cycles. The climb requires more than good equipment. It’s mental as much as physical. A storm or unpredictable conditions can strike at any moment. Leaders must exhibit fearlessness to show people how to expect, notice and respond to anything…”

In this blog the authors outline the five characteristics that leaders must have in order to build a culture that embraces change; Clarity, role models, right-sizing empowerment, bias to act for the customer, and procreate DNA. This last characteristic is not about selection of the right spouse in order to have the best and brightest children, but it is about your company culture. Building a culture that is “change-friendly” and then systematically passing that on in the DNA of the business culture is important to the continued success of your business.  In order to do this, we must consciously build a positive workplace culture and pass that along to the next generation of leaders.

After reviewing the characteristics, I would substitute the “right-sizing empowerment” with “build smart trust.”  This week I listened to a dialog with Steve Covey, Jr. on this topic  detailed in his new book, “Smart Trust.” This book sits on my iPad and as I write this I am looking at it’s predecessor “The Speed Of Trust” on my book shelf (pre-iPad days).  The speed of trust topic is around why trust is so important from a business level and how having trust can speed the decision-making process, speed time to market, and ultimately contribute to profitability for the business. Covey details the five types of trust; self, relationship, organizational, market, and societal.  In the second book, “Smart Trust” he goes on to discuss the balance that we as leaders must strive for between the risk and possibilities, character and competence when we increase trust within our organizations. I think both of these books should be required reading for anyone in a leadership position.

Back to the conversation with my management friend, when faced with staff members who are frustrated, I would suggest that first you should be glad that your staff is comfortable coming to you to discuss the issue and then second make sure that you understand the real source of their frustration.  If it is change in general rather than a specific change that has impacted them in their personal or work life, then ensure that you understand and can present the reason for the change in a positive supportive manner and at the same time use this as an opportunity to discuss the changing climate that we live in today. If on the other hand the change is specific, then depending on what the change is, determine how you can help them deal with that change and support them as they come to terms with the impact that it is having on them.

For myself, I have seen more change in the last five years of my professional life than I have in all of the prior years combined. I too have been frustrated at times, but I can say that having clarity around the reason for these changes and understanding the vision for the future did ease if not banish the frustration.  When reflecting on the quote above from Winston Churchill, I now just look at all of this change as my opportunity to work  toward perfection.

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