we need high flying leaders today

The world is today changing rapidly and this is affecting the world of business as never before. Globalisation, the Internet and emerging economies such as in India and China are bringing huge challenges to businesses in the UK and the western world.

Organisations are generally driven to change either by the desire or philosophy to be the highest quality, best, first or leader in an industry; or they are forced to change through painful circumstances such as high turnover, loss of revenue or loss of industry position. Our focus here is on change due to the latter.

It is more pertinent than ever for effective leadership to create and lead change. When change is completed effectively, the organisation adapts and learns, and achieves its goals. However all too often change efforts fail as they are met with resistance and fear. Change can be as minor as relocation to a different office or as major as rapid growth or downsizing.

If you and your company don’t take advantage of change, change will defeat you. Stability is actually bad news for today’s company – it requires change to succeed. By redefining what change is, companies can change the dynamic of “change equals death” to “change equals opportunity.”

Management can’t force employees to overcome their fear of change through short-term motivation. A deeper, longer term and more empathetic approach is needed. More than ever before, companies need to fully embrace the philisophy of “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) and this begins internally by fully considering the needs of employees.

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Here are some simple tips to provide leadership to bring about change:-

1. Embrace change as a positive feature of today’s business world and see it is a positive thing. A simple review of new industries that have developed in the last decade will demonstrate that change is here to stay. Change is more rapid then any other time in history, it is not going away and is a completely natural process. See it as a renewing cycle for organisations and individuals. Reframe and rename change into renewal and you can create more buy in.

2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, as any time we try something new, we feel awkward and uncomfortable. It is part of what it takes to change. It helps to reframe the feeling. Instead of feeling uncomfortable you and your staff could decide to feel excited, jazzed, energised or renewed.

3. Create a clear vision and define where you want your business to be. Do the work necessary to fully believe in and commit to the change. Develop and sustain your belief in the change effort, and communicate that belief with your actions and words.

4. Build a case for change. Understand where you are now and decide where you need to be. Present and outline the facts as a clear compelling reason for change. Build excitement for the future in order to overcome the discomfort created by change. Build commitment and awareness of the need for change.

5. Build a powerful guiding coalition within your business by identifying who you need as sponsors of your plan for change and gain commitment to the change effort by communicating your compelling case for change. Think together about alternative strategies to achieve the change, create transition plans and think about how you will overcome barriers.

Assemble groups with enough power to lead the change effort, working together as a team. Make sure that each person fully understands their role in the change process and feels appreciated for their contribution.

6. Identify the people in your organisations who are early adapters and change agents. They are the visionaries, forward thinkers and influencers. Work with them and they can bring up the rest of the staff, including those who may be inclined to be negative and resistant to change.

7. Remember that organisations are people – just as your organisation is changing so are your people. Each individual is going through his or her own personal process of change. Remember that motivation usually involves recognizing employees for their contribution; having some power over a certain amount of decisions; and acknowledging them for the strengths they bring to their work.

8. Put the change into perspective. Explain why things must change – link the change to world events, business trends and other themes, so that your staff realize that they are part of something much larger than the change that you are presenting to them.

9. Be up front about the consequences, if any, if they don’t adopt the change – people need to know what their options are. At the same time people need their hands holding, at least temporarily. No one wants to look stupid. When you ask the people in your organisation to change, they need a certain amount of training and a short time where errors are allowed.

10. Be patient while people reposition themselves after first learning about the change – the body and mind simply takes time to do this, so don’t assume a sluggish response is resistance – it’s just human. Also, reward curiosity and alternative ways of thinking. Often, simple acknowledgement or recognition can be enough reward.

11. Be up front and fully honest – change is scary enough, but when the other person feels like they don’t have all of the facts/information, expect a strong reaction. Just as soon as you or the situation changes in some way, let others know immediately – don’t wait for the right ‘time’ or ‘place’ to tell them as waiting only makes it harder for everyone.

12. Create a climate for questioning how and what is done. If your style is autocratic, but you want valuable, creative change then learn to value input. It doesn’t mean that you always have to use the new ideas, but it creates an environment where things can and do change.

13. Encourage constant open communication. Regular communication is vital to the change process. Feedback needs to be ongoing in all directions – up, down and across. At the same time, encourage risk taking and brainstorming. Respect differences and test out new ideas and methods. Keep what works and let go of what doesn’t.

14. Most change efforts fall far short of their potential. Usually that’s because the leadership fails to address the deep behavioural changes they are seeking.

Be prepared for the normal emotional reactions to change. Change can create instability, anxiety, conflict, nostalgia for the past, and fear of the unknown. Help people move through these responses by expressing empathy and using a coaching leadership style.

15. Celebrate success. Acknowledge short term gains and communicate the connection between new behaviours and corporate success.

To conclude, reframe what change is and see it as new opportunities for companies to capture large markets. Whilst change may be seen as a stiff challenge, it also represents an opportunity for inspirational leadership.

Companies that introduce products and services that represent significant changes can well find that they lead to rapid, runaway successes.

Practice leadership based on the courage to live the change you wish to bring about. Apply the principles of CSR, and you are more likely to increase your chances of being successful in these rapidly changing times.

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© Arvind Devalia Feb 2007

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