Effective change leadership in any organization must master three realms of personal awareness and expression — what we call Head (enabling people to think differently), Hands (organizing people to do work together), and Heart (engaging people toward a common purpose). This post focuses on “head” — how to enable people to think differently during a change initiative.
Lasting Organizational Transformation Must Go Beyond Top-Down Strategies
One of the key learnings from our experience working with many organizations trying to transform themselves is that ultimately, organizations don’t change. People do.
Recent research from McKinsey finds that half of all efforts to transform organizational performance fail either because senior managers don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organization defend the status quo. In both cases, individual behavior is at the heart of the hold-up, not a system or process. Leaders, by default, must step up to the plate to be the early adopters of individual change to advance change for the whole.
Change leadership, focused on the people side of change is an important skill to build and nurture — and to be successful you must enable people to think differently and initiate meaningful shifts in what people think is important. It’s not about changing minds, it’s about directing those minds toward the goal with discipline and transparency.
How Does a Change Leader Enable People to Think Differently?
Make sure to clarify intent. Identify where we are going and why. Here’s where we want to go, and here’s why. Candor is vital here. Your people are intelligent adults; treat them with respect.
It’s also imperative to identify priorities. What goals are most meaningful, what commitments will stimulate the most collective progress. No self-directed change is an on switch. It’s a staged sequence of accomplishments, each identified as the next priority. So start with the most meaningful — not just the easiest — and identify the commitments required to stimulate the clearest sense of collective progress. Emphasis: collective. Lasting change is shared change.
Foster a growth mindset. Move people from a “way things always are” mentality. In nearly all organizations, inertia is a powerful force—maybe the most powerful force. To move through it it’s essential for leaders to focus on wins, and keep advancing the ball.
Reinforce common context. Why are we changing, here’s what is the broader, bigger story, here’s how we fit. Every communication and every action must be couched within the broader context. Change for the sake of change is not going to motivate anyone for long. So keep the “why” visible and present.
Effective Change Leaders are Clear Communicators
In today’s interconnected and media-saturated world, effective leadership communication can be challenging. However, to ensure clarity, make sure communication follows these guidelines:
- Frames the destination: Here’s the optimal outcome
- Shows the path: Here are the steps we’re taking together
- Speaks in context: This is the world were competing in and this is why we’re changing.
- Acknowledges the road not taken: There is rarely one single path that can deliver you to a changed state. Be clear about the steps you’re not taking—or not taking now.
- Rinse and repeat: Remind and reinforce, again and again. Change can slip to the background, so it’s up to leaders to keep it front and center.