“There is nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change.”
John F. Kennedy
Today’s rapid pace of change, combined with a strengthened focus to retain talent, places greater pressure on leaders to fully address the human side of change.
CEOs report that they are laser-focused on accelerating the pace of digital transformation, improving innovation, modifying business models, and streamlining costs – all of which involve significant change. And at the same time, lack of quality talent ranks #2 among CEOs when asked about their top internal obstacles.1
Leaders cannot afford to alienate and lose talent as they navigate and lead significant change initiatives. Now more than ever, leaders must devote time and attention not just to the financial side of change, but to the behavioral side of change as well.
We recently had the opportunity to meet with Laura Cinat, ECC OCM (Organizational Change Management) Consultant and Business Transformation Executive, to gain her experienced perspective on what leaders can do to improve how they lead through change.
“While constants and predictability anchor people in their lives, change and uncertainty create instability and stress. And we are already living in stressful times. Now more than ever, it’s critical that leaders support their people through change, recognizing that the needs of their people have likely shifted over the past few years,” states Laura. “Engaging people at all levels of the organization and making time to hear their ideas and answer their questions, is critical. When combined with a well-planned and adaptive change strategy, inclusive communications, and comprehensive training, the organization will have a much better chance of achieving the benefits the change is designed to achieve."
So how do leaders get better at change?
“Prioritize and invest in Change Management!” says Laura. “People crave connection, belonging, purpose, and positive interaction. It’s the difference between an impassioned, motivated organization and a disconnected one. Investing in successful change is not just the dollars, the technology, the equipment, the infrastructure, etc., but it’s investing equally in the people-side of the change.
Laura offers 4 behavioral-based considerations for leaders.
1. Understand the change curve.
Change is not linear. People experience change in 3 distinct phases. Initially, something is coming to an end, whether that be a process, a system, etc. People must let go of the current to make way for the new. Productivity begins to drop as people may feel shock, anger, denial, fear, and sadness. In the second phase, people begin to understand the new way – its importance and benefits – but haven’t yet learned it. During this time, they are likely to feel confused, disoriented, frustrated, skeptical, and even apathetic. Finally comes the new beginning, which brings excitement, energy, and commitment, with productivity improving sharply.
- Understand and plan for the human aspects of change.
- Understand motivators and resistance in the workforce.
- Allow ample time upfront and throughout the process recognizing that the bigger the company, the greater the inertia, the more time necessary to successfully alter the course.
- Enlist skilled and experienced support to assist in the change journey.
- Devise ways to create positive predictability, even in the midst of change, by holding weekly celebrations, for example.
2. Be self-aware.
Self-awareness is a critical skill for all leaders. However, in times of significant change, leaders must look inward to heighten their emotional intelligence relative to the change. After all, they are both experiencing the change, and leading the change.
- Understand their "why" - their emotional, values-driven connection to the change, and understand what they are gaining and losing in the change.
- Integrate regular pulse-checks throughout the change process. Suggestions include staff meetings, team meetings, survey, and town halls.
- Be highly responsive to lingering resistance and/or protracted downswings in workforce engagement and motivation.
- Be self-confident and willing to hear criticisms about the change or the way it's being managed, and then adapt the approach to become even better.
- Be positive! Enthusiasm Is contagious.
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
A strong, thoughtful communications strategy that incorporates consistent and substantive updates, will anchor people to the company and the new vision. The strategy and plan should include:
- The Why - Make a clear case for change with a compelling vision for what’s on the other side of the change curve.
- Values - Ensure values are aligned both vertically and horizontally.
- Change Impacts - Clearly articulate how each stakeholder group will need to work differently in the future, and why.
- Engagement - Communication is not just about telling. It's also about listening, and about including team members at all levels in the organization in how the change is implemented.
- Measurement – Establish goals, milestones, and success measures that are clear from the start. Make sure that changes in behavior, and not just results, are being measured and recognized. Behavioral changes are the leading indicators that positive change Is coming. They are the foundation.
4. Provide support, training, and reinforcement.
Despite today’s virtual realities, not everything can be done effectively from remote locations, particularly when implementing large-scale change. Comprehensive support and training must address the varied needs of all those impacted including:
- Leadership Capability – Build organizational change management capability among mid-level leaders throughout the organization.
- Learning & Motivation – Bring people together for workshops, team meetings, training sessions, etc., as there is significant value in real-time human interaction that will accelerate the learning process, build a shared experience, and create a support network. People will feel more connected to both each other and to the change.
- Flexibility – Support and training should be flexible and include options to best meet the needs of a diverse workforce.
- Vigilance – Be proactively aware of progress and resistance.
- Reinforcement – Establish criteria – process, financial, and behavioral – and measure frequently. Celebrate early successes. Make sure you are rewarding the behaviors you desire.
Laura also cautions on some of the common pitfalls of behavioral change, and what leaders can do to avoid them.
1. Underestimating the leader’s role.
- Don’t delegate. Be active, visible, and demonstrate sponsorship.
- Consistently integrate change communication in staff meetings, townhalls, etc.
- Integrate the change into a regular way of working, both vertically and horizontally.
2. Assuming frontline masses will "fall in line" to leadership requests.
- Communicate from the start, a clear vision for the future, stressing the why, and uncovering what’s in it for them.
- Ensure change communications are clear, frequent, and tailored for each level and function throughout the organization.
- Set clear goals and milestones. Celebrate successes, big and small.
3. Not addressing and ensuring sustainment and benefit realization.
- Ensure the upfront change strategy and plan include what’s needed to sustain the change. On the process side, who is going to own continuous improvement for the new processes and technology? And on the behavioral side, how will the organization reinforce and reward the new behaviors?
- Set clear measurements and timing post-change to gauge whether targeted benefits are realized and achieved.
4. Not seeking skilled, experienced support.
- Identify upfront, who will be leading each aspect of the change journey and their qualifications/expertise.
- Identify skill/expertise gaps.
- Reach out for experienced help and assistance as needed, to develop and implement a comprehensive, successful change plan. On the human side, this should include a communications strategy/plan and management and employee training programs.
“With companies today driving significant change at record levels, Change Management as a profession has matured and continues to become more sought after,” states Laura. “As Change Management professionals, we are highly experienced in successfully delivering all aspects of change, including the behavioral aspects, tailored to the needs of each client."
After all, it’s people that move organizations forward.
1 C-Suite Challenge 2021: Leading in a Post-COVID-19 Recovery. The Conference Board, April 2022.
- Leading Change Management in the Modern Workplace. Forbes, May 28, 2019.
- Getting Personal About Change. McKinsey, August 21, 2019.
- A New World Needs a New Approach to Change Management. Forbes, Jan. 25, 2022.
ECC has an experienced global team of executive coaches and consultants who are certified, trained, and highly skilled in providing specialized support for executive leaders, their teams, and their organizations. If you or your organization are looking to prepare for and to lead change, to drive business results and accelerate success, we’d welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.
Laura is an ECC OCM Consultant (Organizational Change Management) and a Business Transformation Executive based in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Her storied 25-year career began with a 3-year stint in Ukraine with USAID that included developing the systems and processes that took the organization from 4 to 200 people. Escalating corporate positions include Principal at a top management and consulting firm, Associate Director, Organization Change Management at Kraft Foods, and VP, Organization Change Management at CNA Insurance.Laura is a certified Prosci Change Management Practitioner. She holds a Master of Business Administration in Business and Organizational Strategy from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Michigan University and a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan.