Initiating Change – The Leader’s Biggest Challenge

Leadership is about looking to the future, almost with the uncanny ability to look around corners and see what is there. Effective leaders are mapping out the future and most of the mapping has to do with making organizational changes, strategic decisions about the business that will ensure an exciting future. Leaders inside organizations have a challenge, however, and that is convincing the employees that change is good for them and the company.

Let’s face it. Most human beings become comfortable in their environment and the natural inclination is to resist changing that comfort level. That is where leadership comes in to play. It is about marshalling the emotional courage to convince all that change is good for the organization and that change will be good for them as well. Undoubtedly, the latter is the harder part, as all of us react differently to change. Among the reasons many resist change are:

  1. Fear of the future: This provokes many emotions, mostly commonly anxiety. It is okay to be anxious, but as I always say, “This too shall pass.”
  2. Fear that we might fail: Not an uncommon feeling when we are stepping off into uncharted waters.
  3. Dissension and disagreement: Employees often have different viewpoints.
  4. Loss: All change creates loss, and all loss needs to be mourned. In this sense, some employees may be losing power and influence and therefore resist any movement for change.
  5. Trust: If the employees don’t trust the leader, then there will be tremendous resistance to the change.

What steps can we take as leaders to initiate change that will cut down the anxiety and effectively begin change in a way that the organization will be able to absorb? Every leader needs to look out over the landscape and assess how he or she can best achieve the change. Of course, when push comes to shove, driving it down the organization’s throat may work, but I would argue only in unusual circumstances.

Think about it. Change can be minor or major in scope. It can involve the entire organization or just a part of the organization. It may be relatively easy (in terms of time) or it might be a multi-year project. Each of these assessments will require different strategies for initiating the change.

Change is such an illusive word in that it means so many things to so many different people. It does cover strategy, structure, people, systems, culture, et al. Planning for change is as important as deciding and initiating the change. At the end of the day, all organizations want to move to a better state of affairs, as opposed to a worse state of affairs.

Often we see failure in merger and acquisition transactions since it is easy to do the deal, but the heavy lifting begins when companies decide to effect the merger. Whether you continue to operate the acquired entity as a wholly-owned entity or integrate it into the parent operations, it is always a challenge to absorb a new entity. Leaders, take note:

  1. Assess the degree of difficulty.
  2. Plan carefully for implementing change. Assess the speed at which the organization can absorb change. Going too fast can be more painful than the change itself.
  3. Determine whether this is top down change or bottom up change. From experience, most change comes from the top but turning it around and getting the bottom part of the organization to take a leadership role in effecting change goes a long way to having the change initiative be successful.

Like most business initiatives, change initiatives usually take longer and cost more to implement and often the planed goals are less than what was imagined. That is not reason to give up. Just adjust your expectations and  communicate these to your constituency.

Getting others to see your point of view and act upon it is never easy.

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