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.