Most people don’t like change; when it’s self-imposed it can be daunting, but when it’s imposed, it can be overwhelming and frightening. That can be a huge problem in the business world, since it’s well documented that thriving organizations are agile and flexible, willing to move in a new direction.
When change occurs, the main determinant of how painless the process will be at any given business is the type of leadership that’s in place. Managing in times of change presents a great opportunity to emerge as a vibrant leader—or not.
Leaders who “get it” will embrace change; understand the issues that make people resistant to it and why it can fail; and consider what’s going on with their employees, both individually and collectively. They’ll also realize that their team members will fall into one of the following five response categories (as defined by John Maxwell in his book, Developing the Leader Within You):
- Innovators—People who are dreamers; they have great ideas but aren’t necessarily considered to be leaders
- Early Adopters—People who are respected by their peers and often serve as “convincers” when new ideas are presented
- Middle Adopters—People who can be either positively or negatively influenced by their peers (Most people fall into this category.)
- Late Adopters—People who are the last to “come around”; they may never acknowledge the benefits of specific change, but ultimately will comply
- Laggards—People who will always be against change, and have the potential to be a negative influence on the company
Strong leaders will also need to use emotional intelligence in their quest to get change “buy-in,” being optimistic, empathetic, assertive, etc. as specific situations demand. Those who are shocked at the response employees have to change really don’t know their people.
Understanding who’s receiving the message is just a part of the equation, of course. Leaders must ensure the following change-embracing conditions are met:
- A compelling story—The reason for change must be explained in a way that allows employees to see its point.
- Rode modeling—It can be invaluable for people to see their colleagues making changes, e.g., using a new technology platform.
- Reinforcement—As changes become reality, it’s important that supportive processes, systems and incentives are in tune with them.
- Skills for change—Employees must be provided with the skills they need to enact changes, and in some cases that may require training.
Savvy leaders will set themselves up to win when change is in the wind, understanding the dynamics of their teams and what will best motivate them to accept a new path or way of doing things. They’ll also realize the value of change occurring from the bottom up, and will make decisions with that in mind.