Thursday, May 16, 2013

The First Thing Leaders Need to Do When Leading a Big Change

Guest post from Phil Buckley:

Most leaders will lead their organizations through multiple big change projects. Constant change is a business reality and organizations must continually adapt to their environments to stay competitive or risk losing relevance and becoming obsolete. For each change, leaders must define it, create a vision of the post-change world, and mobilize their teams to make it.
Often, leaders become paralyzed by the magnitude of the change. Transforming an organization while keeping day-to-day operations running is like fixing a car as it is being driven; it’s complicated, risky, and it’s not clear whether the team can pull it off. Since most changes are in response to performance gaps, speed to completion is a default success factor. Many leaders immediately jump into action mode without taking stock of the environment in which the change is being made and their abilities to lead it.

The first thing leaders need to ask themselves is, “What do I bring to the project?” They need to think of what they can draw upon to help the organization make the change; what past experiences, knowledge, skills and relationships are relevant to the project? Taking stock of their qualifications will focus their energy and build confidence. Many will be surprised at how much they have to offer and how these abilities will benefit them over the course of the change. They may also realize that there are some gaps that need to be filled to successfully lead the project.
Here are some tips on how leaders can assess what they bring to their role in leading change:

1. Review past change projects they have led and what they learned from them. A leader is less likely to repeat mistakes if they are analyzed and written down. If there is no record of lessons learned, the leader can interview past project team members, asking them for their views on what worked and what didn’t. Two or three short discussions will be enough to capture the key learnings so that the successes can be repeated and mistakes can be avoided.
2. Read past performance appraisals and note the skills and capabilities they have been recognized for. There will be themes over time around strengths and development needs. Leaders need to draw upon their strengths and mitigate their gaps by selecting team members who are strong in these areas.

3. Speak with peers (internal and external) who have managed similar change projects. Ask them to identify what experiences, knowledge, skills and relationships contributed to their success. Also, can they suggest which areas the leader is strong in and which ones needs some support. These resources can also be tapped when the leader needs advice on project challenges.
4. Assess the relationships they have with the groups that are going through the change. Personal credibility and trust is important when supporting teams through change. Employees have excellent memories and their initial view of the change will be influenced by their past experience with the leader. Knowing this point is critical to how the leader should frame the change and communicate the details to them.

5. Meet with employees they know that will be undergoing the change. These people will be able to give leaders insider perspectives on needs, concerns and cultural norms. Understanding the uncensored beliefs of the groups will enable them to amplify positive perceptions and refute negative ones.
Identifying the unique experiences, skills and behaviors leaders bring to a big change project is the best way to start building a plan to successfully managing it. Drawing upon these assets as they develop a deeper understanding of the change and what has to be done to make it successful will help them lead from their strengths and support their gaps.

Phil Buckley is a senior change management professional with nearly twenty-five years of experience developing and executing change strategies to achieve aggressive business goals. He has managed twenty-seven large scale change projects, most recently co-leading global change management for the $19.6 billion Kraft Foods acquisition of Cadbury with a team of forty change leads across sixty countries.
Phil is the author of a new book, CHANGE WITH CONFIDENCE: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that keep Change Leaders Up at Night (Jossey-Bass, March, 18 2013). It provides complete, actionable answers to the fifty burning questions that leaders routinely ask about how to manage change successfully.

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