Be a Great Change Leader

  • 7 mins read

Every successful organization has experienced change. With the business environment and its threats constantly evolving, it follows that the inability to change prevents success. Of course, change doesn’t happen on its own. Effective change not only must be managed, it must be led. This is an unfamiliar concept to many executives.

As change expert Edith Onderick-Harvey explains in Forbes’, Developing A Change Leader Mindset, managing change is not the same as leading change. Change management uses tools and processes to conduct projects. Leading change involves setting a course, establishing a culture and motivating your people to follow. Successful leaders are those who lead change, not if, but when it is required.

Considering that over sixty percent of all major corporate change initiatives fail, executives will benefit from enhancing their change leadership approach. Here are five fundamental pillars of change that great leaders build upon:

Set a Vision

A compelling vision is what underpins all successful change. It not only sets the change initiative in motion, but it sustains its life during execution and long after its implementation. The leader’s vision is founded on an assessment of the way things are, points out the things that need to change and paints a picture of the way things need to be.

Corporate change may involve new products, new markets or a new company image. It may pertain to expansion or downsizing. It may be as basic as upgrading policies, procedures or systems.

The leader’s vision adequately explains the need for change by helping people understand the risks of maintaining the status quo and the benefits of making changes. The staff needs to be drawn together in unity, to not only collectively accept the change, but play an active role in it.

Other managers are commissioned to promote the change and engage their people in the process. This involves extra group communication, where things are explained, people are heard and their concerns are acknowledged. A collective spirit of seeking solutions is critical.

The vision-setting stage is where a leader is especially focused on being credible and available to build as trusting an environment as possible.

Establish a Plan

A vision for change has no chance of success without an effective plan to make it happen. Plans must include the participation of managers and staff, and may require outside resources. Plans need to be realistic regarding scope, timing and staffing. Nothing crushes a vision faster than a plan that can’t be accomplished well.

How can a leader ensure that these things are properly considered? Ask your experts: your people. Leaders develop successful plans by involving their people ¾ getting their input, their ideas and their buy-in. An engaged staff is the primary resource a leader has in seeing a vision to fruition. It’s no longer the leader’s vision; it’s everyone’s vision.

An involved staff is made responsible for their assigned tasks. While each person is held accountable, leaders also encourage them to help each other. The plan comes together with this collective effort, where walls are taken down and territories are de-emphasized.

Organizing people into special task forces or teams can make effective use of their skills and time. Give them authority to make decisions or enhance the plan. An empowered team finds even better solutions and innovations. This enhances their sense of purpose and value. Their enthusiasm will be contagious and augment your promotional efforts.

Make the Investments

The greatest plan for change cannot be fulfilled without the proper resources. The fastest way to lose the enthusiasm you established in your people is to sabotage their efforts by withholding the resources they need to make the changes your plan calls for.

Again, your people are the experts in understanding what they need. It may be new policies or procedures. It may be equipment or systems. It could require more people: either with the same skills or new skillsets the group doesn’t currently have. Talent may simply need to be repurposed, switching people’s roles to accomplish the plan.

Regardless, leaders need to be open to making the investments needed whether in daily expenditure or capital investment. This is a point stressed by MIT lecturer Douglas Ready in his HBR article, 4 Things Successful Change Leaders Do Well. Leaders who support short and long-term investment plans have the greatest chances of realizing their vision. Proper investments not only make the plan feasible during its implementation, but keep the vision (and the company) strong long after the changes are made.

Great change leaders invest for the future, willing to bear short-term pain for long-term gain. They motivate their people to appreciate the investments and make the most effective use of them.

Provide the Training

A plan for change that calls for new procedures or systems requires properly skilled people. Leaders may need to include the cost of employee training in their investment plans. One of the best ways to implement large-scale training is to have a select team of employees undergo extensive training, and then serve as in-house experts able to train their coworkers.

Great change leaders make use of this strategy to optimize collaboration, teamwork and brainstorming. It not only raises in-house expertise, but empowers and engages employees-in the vision and plan.

In addition to technical training, leaders, managers and employees benefit from softer skill training that enhances change initiatives. Great change leaders give their people the opportunity to learn:

  • Project management skills
  • Collaborative workshop and brainstorming/innovation techniques
  • Leadership skills, including active listening, conflict resolution, and constructive feedback
  • Relational intelligence skills; how to read people, work in unity and support others
  • How to give presentations
  • New mindsets, including positivity, overcoming anxieties, and being more agile

A well rounded, trained and prepared staff is a leader’s best approach to any change initiative.

Celebrate Progress

Great change leaders know that people under pressure need occasional relief and encouragement. Workers don’t last long when they’re constantly driven with no feedback on how they’re doing.

Setting up methods to track progress allows people to know where things stand as they move forward. Leaders should not only recognize project status, but appreciate the hard work and progress being made. Do this publicly, and frequently. Emphasize the positives and encourage continued success. The best leaders celebrate little victories along the way, not waiting until they feel a major war is won.

Have gatherings to share stories and accomplishments. Highlight personnel and feed them with acknowledgements and thanks. This enhances their sense of self-worth and value, and it makes a potentially long project more manageable.

At the end of the implementation, even grander celebrations are called for. Make it a big deal ¾ because to your people, it is. These are the kinds of things that keep them engaged in the vision when working out the kinks down the road. It also prompts them to continue applying themselves and allows the vision to continue living in them.

As a leader, your role is foundational in initiating change, drawing your people to its purpose and giving them purpose as they partner with you to implement what needs to be done.

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