Managers need particular skills and characteristics to lead during times of change. Here’s a primer.
My company is restructuring from selling corporate videos to delivering 7DTV. How we make the changes is forcing me to think about how our managers and I have to adapt quickly. There are some skills and personal characteristics that leaders need to implement their changes successfully and ensure everyone is on side.
Welcome change. Speak positively about change. Be open and optimistic about the future, and don’t complain.
Resilience. Although change exhausts some people, leaders need extra reserves and energy so they can stay calm and not get stressed or upset by surprises and unknowns. It’s a tolerance for uncertainty.
Active learners. Be someone who tries new ways, takes risks and enjoys the challenge, always happy to learn new skills.
Supportive. Leaders who care about their staff usually have great empathy skills and seem to know who needs their support, and are always there to offer the support when others are having difficulty. In my leadership workshops, being supportive is ranked one of the highest attributes of great managers.
Driven by a vision
You have to be able to explain the big picture and communicate an inspiring vision – simple words, factual, to the point, and find any opportunity to promote your change. You will hear a good manager of change, even in a corridor, speaking with passion and enthusiasm. They keep everyone energised and focused on outcomes, even day to day. It’s all about maintaining the drive and momentum and keeping on track.
Build the foundation
The leader of change needs to plan systematically – think through the proposed change – and consider what impact will it have, then develop a change strategy to achieve the results that are needed. There needs to be a realistic schedule. Work out what is feasibly possible.
And, most importantly, manage the stakeholders (staff, clients). What do they need, what will be achieved for them through this change, and what disruptions? Anticipate problems that can occur, take into account all the stakeholders’ needs (within reason) so that all the issues are thought through well ahead.
They need to plan the support system; will there be training and coaching, back up plans to help people through the changes?
Implement the change
The leader must manage the change project effectively, no matter what size of change, making sure they have all the resources needed. They need to demonstrate credibility by building in and achieving agreed milestones so everyone feels progress is being made, and can see the whole thing is being managed well.
Spread positive feeling by communicating frequently. The biggest fault of many managers is the communication: not enough briefing meetings. The real change champions take every opportunity to update everyone concerned with details, plans, and relevant facts. They also monitor progress and adapt as required. They know what is going on at all stages and all times; they are constantly checking progress. They show they are flexible as the plans need to be modified; they don’t get stuck and rigid.
And they always evaluate and follow up as part of the ongoing process, they want to know:
- How effective the change is.
- That any promises made are followed up.
- Additional needs; eg, training and support, and they make sure these needs are met.
The hardest task of many managers leading change is to get their people onside because so many people hate change; they resist it and often feel burnt out by the number of ongoing changes they have.
To gain commitment a leader of change needs to:
Understand people’s reactions to change (anger, resentment, silence, fear), the psychological reactions that are normal. Some people are excited by change. Managers need to:
Know what motivates and excites people. For some it will be ease of tasks; others will relish a challenge or the chance to gain new skills for their CV, or even the opportunity to get rid of some past problems.
Anticipate resistance and offer practical suggestions for minimising the resistance. A great way to get people onside is to generate ownership by finding ways to involve others, such as by inviting the hold-outs to join the change strategy committee. Reward systems, team building or fun activities can help get people involved and motivated.
Encourage others who can support the change. They may not officially be a leader but perhaps have influence or are popular with a certain group. Someone with great spreadsheet skills might manage the resource lists, or revised price scales; a person with good design and/or presentation skills could create a little presentation to explain the changes to others.
I like to see managers who enjoy the end of the change and share that with their team: celebrating the achievements. This acknowledges and rewards those that adapt to the change and is also a thankyou to those who have assisted, and helps everyone share. It should really be some time out and a chance to stop and have some fun.
Eve Ash is a psychologist and managing director of Seven Dimensions, and co-producer with Peter Quarry of the Ash.Quarry production, Manage Change Successfully (Take Away Training series) www.7dimensions.com.au
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