The importance of leading through change

Julia Nickless

By Julia Nickless

07 Mar 2019

Leading people through change is often challenging. Effectively leading through change can often help avoid uncertainty and confusion among your employees, whether this is during times of political or economic uncertainty, an organisational restructure or even something as small as a new policy introduction within your organisation. A good leader can be supported through challenging times with coaching development, which aims to help enhance their skills, in leading through times of uncertainty and change.

Woman Postit Notes
"The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again” – Justin Trudeau

There are many, like Trudeau, who claim that the pace of change is increasing. Whether this is within the political landscape, like Brexit, or industrial, such as Industry 4.0 and the rise of AI and robotics, the implications are potentially far-reaching. The scale of these changes is huge, and requires strong leadership to effectively navigate them. Recognising where leadership coaching, potentially from a supporting agency, can help play a part in preparing leaders for these changes, can be beneficial and may help leaders improve communication skills, engage with employees more productively, understand the challenges and prepare a robust strategy.

Leading through different types of change

It can feel at times like change can come from all directions – and look very different. Take the changes organisations are feeling due to political changes like Brexit: Organisations are finding that they need to introduce new policies, relocate, consolidate teams, close sites and potentially open new entities within the EU.

Compare those with the kinds of changes brought about by advances in industry and the effects of digitalisation. Organisations are redefining people’s roles, how they interact with other arms of the business, even where they work as home-working and remote working rise in popularity. While these changes may feel like they have a stark contrast to those posed by political factors, the process of change is actually very similar. Each of these changes in an organisation will need clear leadership; with the creation of a business case for change, reactive planning and influence, strong communication and motivation and finally the ability to make change last.­

The people affected by these changes, who may be rethinking their careers or needing to reskill, will also be looking for leadership. Leaders that have a vision for how their organisations are going to adapt – and the skills to take their organisations with them, no matter how challenging the environment or uncertain the future – will stand the best chance of thriving.

Leadership skills required during change

Creating a business case for change

When there are glaring issues that require organisational changes it can be easy to get signoff from senior leadership, but when the need for change isn’t immediately obvious it can be more difficult to convince others of the value of change. This is where a strong business case for change is essential. Identifying what exactly needs to be changed, how it needs to be done and what the impact will be on profits and people. Business cases for organisational change need to be far-sighted, rational, honest and robust.

Dealing with reactions to change

Of course, people don’t always respond to change with enthusiasm and happiness. Leaders need to be able to successfully anticipate and respond to a range of reactions to change; harnessing the enthusiasm of those who support it, and overcoming the resistance of those who do not. Management skills training may help leaders with this, helping them build an influence strategy to help drive behavioural change.

Communication, coaching and motivating

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity often co-exist as a group of influences that make people feel defensive, unsettled and helpless –increasing their determination to cling to what is known and familiar. Leading people through change involves understanding this resistance, and engaging people so that they trust the vision that is being presented. This requires the leader to have a clear understanding of the challenges and a robust strategy, that is clearly communicated. Many leaders benefit from coaching development, to help them at this stage of the process.

Making change last

As the Harvard Business Review points out sustained transformation is only possible if the organisation develops leaders who are capable of seeing it through. Leaders need to be able to identify the key enablers and blockers to making change stick, and then act on that information to ensure that change is successful.

Leaders need the right support

Leading through change can be extremely demanding. Leadership coaching is one line of support that an organisation can provide, along with leadership and management training courses, to ensure that a leader doesn't become burned out and overwhelmed, or start to question themselves and lose confidence. Because change doesn't happen instantly and the process can be a long one, even the most gifted leaders recognise the need for support. The leader also needs to have the right soft skills, in terms of communication and engagement.

At Connor, we're aware of just how difficult change can be, and we're here to support organisations and individuals starting a transformation journey, with leadership coaching, management skills training and both leadership and management training courses. Call us on 01491 414 010 for an informal talk about how we approach change and what we can do to help leaders develop the mindset, behaviour and skills that they'll need, or contact us via the site.

[1] What Everyone Gets Wrong About Change Management, Anand and Barsoux, Harvard Business Review 2017.

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