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Change Management Series – Part II: 7 Ways Senior Leaders Can Lead Successful Change

by John Zettler

April 14, 2016

A couple weeks ago we started a series on Change Management and gave you an overview of the change model. Over the next several Accelerated Talent Development (ATD) articles, we’ll start to dive into and view change from the different lenses, starting with Senior Leadership. So why does this matter to you as a business owner or Senior Leader? Here’s why:

  • Several studies suggest that 2 out of every 3 change initiatives fail to meet their desired business outcomes.
  • In a recent Prosci benchmarking survey, visible executive sponsorship (Senior Leadership) was number one on the list of top contributors to change success. 
  • In the same study when asked what the biggest obstacle to success was, ineffective change sponsorship from senior leaders was the primary obstacle.
  • In a 2009 Harvard Business Review study, the active and visible participation of Senior Leadership was cited as the #1 contributor to success. Sponsorship (Senior Leadership) was cited four times more often than any other contributor to success.

Change Starts with a Vision

Regardless of whether your change has been prompted by internal or external factors, creating a vision will help clarify the direction for the change. More importantly, it will provide those impacted by the change with a picture for the future that they can stand behind and get motivated by.

There are many definitions of what a vision is. For the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen the following:

“A vision statement tells you where you are going. It paints a compelling work of a desired future state. It can make anyone who reads it, hears it or lives it want to support, work for, give to, or in some other way be part of your organization.” – Christina Drouin, White paper of Visioning for the Centre for Strategic Planning

What’s Your Role in Change?

1. Create a Compelling Reason for Change – Employees are more likely to buy into the change if they understand the reasoning behind it. Dale Carnegie suggests we try to honestly see things from the other person’s point of view. While I fully appreciate there’s a business to run, also consider what the benefits of the change are to the employees and communicate that.

2. Be Visible – You need to be seen as part of the change, not simply the person who signs off that you support it. Increased visibility will also help others within the organization understand the vision and goals more clearly and your expectations in achieving those goals. The executive’s role is to build alignment among other Leaders around the change effort and to provide unwavering support throughout the change.

3. Motivate and Support – Change is emotional for people. Feelings of confusion, anger, denial, and fear are all common. As Leaders, it’s our role to be aware of, and empathetic to these emotions. Being open to listening to employees and supporting them through the change will go a long way.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – The emotions described above largely come from a place of unknown. At the top you’ll know why the change is necessary and what the goal is for the organization. Employees don’t, so it’s our role as Leaders to help communicate to them before, during and after the change.

5. Role Model – Employees sometimes feel that we hide behind the change. Use your best Leadership skills here and get engaged, and get into the thick of it with employees. If they see you working through the change with them they’ll be more likely to support it.

6. Find Ways to Involve People – Let’s face it, most of the changes we make involve people – the people who do the job every day. Why not include them? Engage people early and often, and ask for their opinion on what will/won’t work and why? After all, people are more likely to support a world they had a part in creating.

7. Master Personal Behaviour Change – All too often, Senior Leaders ask everyone else to change, and in reality change is usually not possible unless the Senior Leaders change too. It’s important for Senior Leaders to understand how their behaviours can either enable or hinder success. We must model first what good looks like before we can expect others to simply hop on the bus.

Benefits of Effective Change Leadership

Assuming you do all this well, there are benefits at both the Organization and Employee level. Here are a few from each perspective:

• Increased ability to innovate for the future
• Reduced impact to day to day business
• Increased trust and credibility for future changes
• Cost containment of change projects
• Increased ROI

• Provides a safe environment for employees to work through the emotions of change
• Reduces stress and worry
• Increases morale, productivity and quality of work throughout the change effort
• Increases the time to acceptance of the change
• Increases engagement and retention within the firm

The success of change largely starts with the commitment of Senior Leadership. You have the opportunity to ensure the success if you buy-in to the steps described above.

Best Success!

John Zettler, Director, Talent Strategy
& Development, Dale Carnegie Training®
Contact me at 905-826-7300 x 230 or jzettler@dalecarnegie.ca


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About the Author John Zettler brings almost 20 years of human resource experience to the challenge of better leadership we all share. He has invested his skills and energies and debated leadership with some of our country’s best leaders. Through this, he has refined a style of management that focuses on leadership conviction, authenticity and caring as the cornerstones of a more nuanced set of management skills we can all benefit from. Instead of balance in our life, he challenges us to a new style of work life blending that both gives us:1. The rush of seeing our people grow and prosper in a company that truly cares about them and their dreams.
2. The time and focus to also contribute the same level of passion to the needs of our families.

To hear more of his insights, click here to view his video as he discusses, “Leadership is Hard Work”.


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