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Change creates challenges even for the most sophisticated organizations. When leading in times of change, your words and actions can set the stage for a smooth transition period, whether you’re in the process of a major change like merging with another company or facing smaller but still important operational shifts. Following these best practices can bolster your ability to guide your team members through periods of change.
Leading in uncertain times requires clear communication. While you may primarily be focused on the message you send your staff, it’s also important to gather and consider feedback from your teams throughout the transition. Encourage employees to ask questions and share information in a variety of settings, such as email, one-on-one conversations, and small and large group meetings. Foster a culture of transparency and trust to improve the confidence of your colleagues during this time of transition.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “communicate” is one of the three critical “Cs” of change leadership, along with “collaborate” and “commit.” Proactively explaining not just when and how but why changes will occur helps your staff understand, accept, and eventually engage in the transition process.
Even positive change can feel unsettling for some people because they aren’t sure what to expect. You can help your colleagues cope using consistent, clear, transparent communication about the transition at hand. Aim to be as open and candid as possible as the most important aspect of leadership, whether you opt for bi-monthly town hall meetings or weekly email updates.
This level of transparency also enhances workforce buy-in for the changes taking place. Staff may be skeptical about company transformation when leadership seems unsure, evasive, or stressed, which can potentially lead to unwanted loss of talented team members. Rather than glossing over challenges, build consensus with an air of confidence about the company’s ability to come out the other side unscathed.
In 2020, Harvard Business Review reported on a “new normal” of three-dimensional change with these definitive qualities:
In light of this new normal, founders, executives and managers must practice adaptive leadership when leading in times of uncertainty. This approach accepts the constant pace of change and embraces the need to pivot in response or anticipation of new circumstances.
Your team will look to you as a leader, which means you’ll need to define and clarify a vision for the organization that motivates and inspires. More so, however, this vision should serve as a driving force to carry the company through the transition with its mission, objectives, and culture intact.
Having clearly established principles also allows you to support your team through the change process. You will better be able to explain both the everyday and overarching impact of change by placing new responsibilities, procedures, supervisors, and scope adjustments in the context of your leadership vision.
The important aspects of leadership that allow you to lead well are also changing in our ever-evolving global landscape. Honing these qualities can help you improve your ability to steer the ship through tumultuous times.
Rather than positioning yourself as the ultimate authority and the person in control, try taking a more open, compassionate approach to leadership during change. HBR notes that admitting uncertainty and showing authenticity builds the psychological security and sense of trust your workforce will need to weather the storm. Let your team see you living your vision for the organization to bring the reality of collective objectives into focus.
A commitment to true positive change requires leaders to break down organizational silos that prevent teams from communicating with one another. Rather than emphasizing competition within company culture, focus on breaking old boundaries and building a new way of working together. Embracing employees at every level strengthens the likelihood of successful transition.
Curiosity can be one of the most important leadership characteristics when weathering change. Instead of doing things within your company the way you always have, learn about new ways of doing those things, whether that means heading out to the field with your teams and observing them in action or spending time talking with other leaders you admire. Encourage your teams to take time to learn, too.
Keeping these best practices and leadership qualities in mind when leading for change can help your organization not only survive but thrive in our rapidly changing business environment.