In organization redesign projects, the role of change agent often falls primarily to human resources practitioners. However, leadership by managers from the C-suite through all levels of the organization can also play a dramatic role in effective change management.
As we facilitate strategic and tactical changes within organizations, we work with numerous executives, each with their own individual leadership styles. Skilled executives typically work to ensure the engagements are successful and the organization receives a positive return on their investment. However, at times, some leaders’ approach to the change management process can actually hinder the organization’s efforts rather than help create a satisfactory result.
One of the most critical characteristics in ensuring successful outcomes is selflessness: the ability to lead employees by looking beyond one’s own self-interest and act for the greater good of the entire organization. When a company takes on the complex task of redesigning reporting structures and management responsibilities, conflicts frequently arise. Executives who look beyond turf wars or individual career objectives to keep everyone focused on the ultimate benefits make the process more effective.
Four Tactics for Effective Change Management
Executives who effectively lead the change process do so by transcending internal arguments to help the change project participants make selfless decisions. Ideally, all of the involved parties should focus on their common goal of making decisions that align corporate strategy and objectives with the realities of daily work. However, it is easy to lose sight of that goal. Savvy leaders can help team members look beyond the current issues to find optimal results.
Here are four tactics that executives can use to facilitate effective change:
- Challenge conventional thinking. When discussing proposed changes, the best solution is not always evident to every participant. If the organization is going to make effective change happen, a good leader must help the team take off their blinders and see new possibilities. To move forward into new thinking, the leader may say, “Let’s just suspend judgement, play out some scenarios, and work towards consensus on the best approach.”
- Help people reframe their thinking. Members of our working groups sometimes get bogged down debating the pros and cons of different approaches. An effective leader suggests ways to reframe the discussion, such as asking: “How can we come up with a model that works?” The power and process of making decisions helps people better align their thinking with common organizational goals.
- Solicit alternatives. While working to facilitate change, it is not always possible to reach consensus. Leaders cannot let the pursuit of perfection become the enemy of the good. When there is resistance to change, for example, managers and peers may “freeze up” and the endeavor reaches an impasse. One solid approach is to play through several scenarios and come up with a solution. The question becomes, “What will it take to make it work?” Often, an effective leader builds a “straw man” – not a final answer to the conflict or an executive directive, but simply a potential solution to serve as a starting point for further discussion. After presenting the tentative approach, the executive asks everyone to identify what gaps they see in the approach: What will work, what will not work, and what improvements can be made. In many stalemates, proposing a straw man and inviting feedback helps the group work past this impasse.
- Recognize the power of offline breaks. Ideally, we only want participants to discuss their views and make suggestions within the formal change working sessions. Nothing typically happens outside the project sessions. However, sometimes people struggle with some aspect of the proposed changes and cannot move beyond their concerns or misunderstandings. The leader notices this person is simply not getting to the same place that the others are, and they are becoming a detriment to the process. Rather take an adversarial approach during the session, the executive could talk to the person offline. They may decide to give them a call or drop by their office just to talk them through the obstacle in a casual, non-confrontational manner. The point is not to manipulate the employee or force them to go along, but rather to help them work through their feelings or hesitations outside the pressure of the group. This savvy executive move often creates powerful results.
The common thread in all of these tactics is helping leaders and change agents look at the organization from what we refer to as the “strategic balcony”. Effective leaders should always take and share a more comprehensive view of the organization. This allows the team to make strategic changes and tradeoffs that ensure alignment with all the sides of our Organizational Cube model.
This ability to see the big picture should be common to all leaders. However, some are not as effective as others at acting from that viewpoint and helping others do the same. These tactics can help executives and change agents become more aware of their tendencies and achieve more effective change management outcomes.