Aishwarya is a full-stack content marketeer. She has previously worked with Toplyne and apna, and is now an independent content consultant for startups. Her niche lies in SaaS and eCommerce. When not cooking up content, you can find her reading a book or playing with her daughter. Read more about her work here.
Change Leadership: Everything You Need to Know to Lead Through Change Effectively
The only constant in life is change, argued Greek philosopher Heraclitus.
This adage might make more sense in today's fast-paced environment than ever before. Businesses need to be adaptable to keep up with the ever-changing demands of their stakeholders, employees, and consumers.
Therefore, your enterprise needs to usher employees and other stakeholders through more minor and larger-scale transformational changes.
But this is easier said than done. There is both an art and a science, and it is called change leadership.
To understand the importance of change leadership, let's take the recent example of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Without top government officials undergoing relevant training, implementing a nationwide lockdown, and relaxing it in phases, everything would have been very chaotic.
At the time of the 1918 Spanish Flu, the city of St. Louis learned this the hard way. They witnessed a crude second wave as soon as they relaxed all restrictions at once instead of doing it in phases.
Hence, to execute such macro-level changes, the leadership managing change needs to steer everyone with adequate knowledge transfer, guidance, and a strong, shared vision.
So, how can you cultivate this change leadership mindset within your org?
🏢 What is change leadership?
Change leadership is your ability:
- To influence and inspire action in your employees.
- To respond to growth, disruption, or uncertainty with a structured and people-centric plan that allows you to implement the necessary organizational, behavioral, or other changes.
Leadership is about change [...] The best way to get people to venture into unknown terrain is to make it desirable by taking them there in their imaginations. Noel Tichy, management consultant, author, and educator.
Change leadership is a proactive approach that visualizes initiatives needed for long-term, transformational goals and implements strategies that help all stakeholders to get to those goals.
Unlike change management, change leadership is about empowering everyone in the company to be an agent of change rather than imposing change themselves.
Change leadership helps companies implement organization-wide changes, which could be as simple as introducing an HRMS software or as complicated as reinstating a work-from-office setup.
According to the research from Gartner, 80% of organizations manage change from the top down. This approach means that:
- Top executives get together.
- They make strategic decisions.
- They implement those decisions via an organization-wide communication rollout to get "buy-in."
The top-down approach is highly ineffective, leads to massive employee resistance, and eventually leads to attrition.
Gartner's report on organizational change shows that most companies implement a top-down change with poor communication and achieve a success rate of just about 34%.
The gap in understanding and communication between executives and entry-level employees shrinks the success rate even further.
To deal with these common barriers to change, your organization needs:
- a transformational leadership style;
- effective communication;
- fostering a positive work environment.
All of these contribute to creating a culture where your employees become change agents.
Increasingly, CHROs across the world see merit in change leadership.
The social model of change in leadership becomes more important than ever due to:
- complex business structures that have interdependencies;
- the internet being a major level-playing field for all employees giving them access to best-in-class practices.
The change leaders of today need to be adept at:
- Engaging the entire workforce to get collective buy-in before implementation.
- Enabling employees to be ambassadors of change.
- Encouraging a safe, open conversation for all.
🏆 What are the benefits of change leadership?
Solve problems, not create more
When was the last time you solved a problem without implementing any change? Never!
To solve a problem, you need to bring about a change and make your employees understand and appreciate the need for the difference.
Imagine a scenario wherein you have a very new team, and the entire team has been working from home since the beginning.
You have observed that the efficiency is below par due to a lack of team bonding and coordination. To make the team work as a single unit, you would need to get the team to come to the office more often to bond and coordinate better.
As a change leader, the first step would be to state the reason behind this change and get everyone on the same page. Then it would help if you implemented this in stages.
You would maybe call them to the office once a week for a month and then slowly graduate to twice a week and so forth.
You must have heard of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) plenty of times. You may have even set your OKRs and discussed them with your boss.
While the concept of OKRs has existed since the 1970s, it was only in theory.
In 1999, an advisor, John Doerr, introduced OKRs to the Founders of Google. Google's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, received the idea very well and adopted it across the whole company (which, at the time, had only 30 employees).
"OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. They've helped make our crazily bold mission of "organizing the world's information" even more achievable. They've kept the rest of the company and me on time and track when it mattered the most." Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet and co-founder of Google.
With this implementation, Google became a trendsetter in people management, and other companies started adopting the concept.
Over time Google has built one of the strongest employer brands.
Are candidates dying for a free internship?
Are folks doing everything to pass at least one recruitment stage in the company?
Do you have thousands of inbound applications with little to no effort from your Talent Acquisition team?
Is your company synonymous with the gold standard of employment across the world?
Yes, to all of the above. This is what the employer branding of Google looks like.
Thanks, in large, to their stellar people, change management processes, and transformational change leadership at every stage of the company's evolution.
So when you implement a company-wide change, and the change positively impacts your growth, you complement employer branding.
Sales is a field associated with major attrition: sales development reps and account executives often report high-stress levels.
Being an effective change leader means cultivating an atmosphere where employees have better understanding and engagement levels.
Therefore, teams can better implement changes, such as a rehaul of the existing sales process.
By tying any micro-level or macro-level change to business and individual goals, a great Sales leader can:
- Get collective buy-in.
- Achieve business goals (i.e., increase in sales!).
With change leadership, you can promote transparency across all levels of the organization.
When you share your experiences, and the learnings are available to all the employees, they feel included in the organization's growth roadmap.
Moreover, a company with robust change management policies and adept change leaders at the helm can innovate with newer products faster and easily enter and win new markets.
Innovation is not the single reason Apple has been able to upend incumbents in multiple categories and markets. Its change implementation practices increase efficiency across all levels of the organization.
Foster a positive work environment
Change leadership is about communicating the 'WHY' alongside the 'WHAT.' Doing so will instill confidence in your employees and help them work as a unit.
In his Golden Circle Framework, Simon Sinek, renowned leadership coach, demonstrates the power of focusing on the whys:
"People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe."
This approach is how the world's most successful organizations (read: Google, Apple) manage to inspire macro-level changes at a lightning-fast pace and complete buy-in.
Do you like playing football? Or any team sport?
Imagine the team manager proposing a new game strategy without explaining how it would benefit the team.
It would lead to confusion and turn many players against the leadership because they would have different opinions.
Now suppose the captain explains and justifies the need for the new strategy. Then, the team members would be equally motivated because they would have a sense of direction and purpose.
If only all companies were managed like your winning sports team!
👩🏻💼 Who is a change leader? 7 Vital change leadership skills
At the macro level, as a change leader, your primary job is to instill confidence in all your employees and make them believe in the change.
Doing so makes them shared agents of change management leadership. As a result, you'll be more likely to reach your business goals.
But getting to the point where all your employees are on the same page is no walk in the park.
Let's look at seven vital skills for leadership and change management.
Communication is, perhaps, the most critical skill for effective change leadership.
You must communicate in a way that inspires, not imposes, encourages, not stifles, and lastly, in a way that makes people believe in any proposed change.
You, as a change leader, should lead by example. It is imperative that you:
- respond to feedback promptly,
- bond with other teams in the organization,
- foster a collaborative culture so that employees can feel free to reach out to the right person/department,
- ensure that employees feel safe and heard in the organization.
As a change leader, you must be equally committed to your employees and the organization's needs. You must always gun for a win-win situation.
So, you need to strike a balance between the two, ensuring that the change will benefit all involved.
As a change leader, you must be highly research-driven.
You must be curious to study and understand what others in the same industry are doing. As a result, you'll:
- Learn from experiences from your industry.
- Learn from best-in-class practices.
- Have one ear to the wall and know exactly how your employees feel about a particular situation or change.
This emotional compass in an organization is often the best indicator of dissatisfaction and, eventually, more significant problems like attrition, poor efficiency, decrease in sales, etc.
As a change leader, optimism is your best friend.
Energy is infectious, and hence a positive attitude will go miles in implementing a long-term change in an intended manner.
Change leadership and emotional intelligence
You, as a leader, must embrace the change first to implement it across the team.
You should understand the management's vision and the business goals the change can drive.
Then you should be able to motivate each employee to be an ambassador of the change.
As a change leader, you must have a clear vision and strategy to implement the macro-level changes.
You should understand the change's impact on each employee and the business.
Considering the employee's point of view and considering the management's point of view, you should be able to formulate a strategic plan to implement the change.
🏋️♂️ 10 Ways to make a difference as a change leader
As a change leader, your ultimate job is to make a difference in your organization.
Your ideas, strategies, and implementation practices will affect your organization's culture for days, if not years, to come. Hence, getting it right is extremely crucial.
Darshan Somashekar, founder of Hearts.land, stresses that change comes from the top: “If you want your company culture to change, management has to embrace what you define as success and set the tone. Then you’ll find a culture you’ve been striving towards.”
Here are the top 10 ways how you, as a change leader, can help your organization.
Define the strategic plan
Transparency is beneficial to build trust and keeping all your employees motivated.
You will deploy the plan in phases, but your employees need to know the entire roadmap.
Hence you must sit down with your team and discuss the strategic plan to implement the change.
Tip: Your strategic plan should get collective stakeholder buy-in before rolling it out.
Provide consistent support
You need to support all the employees to foster positive growth.
You should regularly address grievances and check in with them about their feelings.
Tip: If there is the slightest hint of displeasure, you must be able to instill confidence and show them the bigger picture.
You must be ready with an alternative plan for each employee in case they don't want to be part of the original plan.
Sustain energy long-term
As a change leader, you must ensure that there are no burnouts.
Tip: You must look at the bigger picture and ensure that your employees get the much-needed leaves to give 100% when they return.
Some leaders get often blinded by short-term objectives, which causes unnecessary stress in the team. So, you must focus on sustaining the team's energy in the long run.
Communicate effectively with employees
Effective one-on-one meetings with employees can reduce stress and attrition and help positive growth.
Better yet, effective leaders document formal communication and stay true to their word.
A leader that does what he says he will do, and communicates future road maps, is primed to lead his team or organization through all seasons.
Recognize embedded tensions
Intra-team/inter-team conflicts are inevitable in an organization.
As a change leader, you must understand the source of tension, address the root cause and attempt to resolve it in a way that is a favorable outcome for all involved.
More often, tensions go unnoticed, leading to a toxic culture.
As an effective change leader, you need to be a people person so that the ground-level pressures don't go unnoticed and you can solve the problem.
As a change leader, you should have prepared to overcome resistance.
Tip: Human beings, by nature, are resistant to change. So, while implementing a macro-level change, you can expect a fair share of criticism and opposition.
These circumstances and how you respond to them will set the tone for your organization.
You can overcome resistance by showing your employees the bigger picture and how the change will benefit them in the long run.
You should approach this tactfully.
Hold everyone accountable
According to a CEO Benchmarking Report, 18% of the leaders had a weakness of being unable to hold others accountable.
You need to promote a culture of accountability so that your employees take more responsibility and ownership.
Tip: As a change leader, implementing changes through any transformation becomes easier when every employee knows their role and takes complete ownership.
Emphasize continuous learning
You must encourage the employees to upgrade their skills continually and take up new courses and training sessions.
This keeps the employees prepared for any drastic changes in the market.
As a change leader, you can introduce training sessions within the organization and incentivize employees who attend them. Timely tests can be conducted based on the sessions.
Today's workforce looks diverse in more ways than one can imagine. The diversity extends to religion, gender, attire, sexual orientation, and more.
In keeping with the modern, diverse workforce, change leaders must accord to each person's individual needs and foster a culture of equity and inclusivity.
A diverse talent pool is a broader talent pool. When your people feel included, you'll get a more engaged workforce.
Therefore, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity) across all levels of the org, including the leadership, is more important than ever.
Implementing a strong DEI strategy from the very start can go miles in enabling more effective change leadership.
💡 Check out 32 hands-on, practical ways to promote DEI at your workplace.
Leading people (through change)
There are a lot of good managers out there but very few leaders.
Great leaders lead from the frontlines by example.
They practice what they preach and often earn respect, not demand it.
A great model for leading people through change is the ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement) model by Prosci founder, Jeff Wright, developed after studying effective change in over 700 organizations.
💡 5 Methods to ensure that leaders don't get in the way of organizational change
Lastly, we must ensure that the senior leadership doesn't get in its way.
Sometimes, as a leader, you can unwittingly get in the way of organizational change in the following ways:
- You undermine the complexity of the change process.
- You fail to communicate effectively.
- You overestimate the organizational capacity [How much time is available for carrying the transition while keeping consistent business outcomes?].
- You do not align correctly with the objectives of change. If leaders only promote change processes for career advancement, people might have difficulty endorsing, resulting in resistance and tensions.
These misalignments are more common than you would imagine.
Short-sightedness and an inflated ego can get the best of us despite our best intentions.
Following are the ways an organization can help a leader avoid these mistakes.
Training leaders on managing change
Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy. Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center.
Max Mayfield was accredited with mitigating some of the ravaging effects of hurricane Katrina by intimating governments at all levels and for his timely and calm guidance.
He emphasized personal and collective preparedness for unexpected crises and inevitable occurrences. His teachings are as relevant to a modern organization as they are for circumventing natural calamities.
By training your current and future leaders, you prime them for a holistic approach to leadership and change, further fostering a resilient culture.
Forward-thinking companies are increasingly adopting a proactive approach to leadership.
💡 We have compiled nine training topics you can implement for your company's leadership training.
All the employees should be looked at as future leaders.
Therefore, your organization should encourage leadership development to build future leaders.
An effective leadership development plan will ensure that:
- You have capable future leaders waiting in the wings.
- Sudden executive disruptions will not disrupt your business.
- You have already trained the right people to take on newer markets and challenges.
But how do you identify these future leaders?
Competency models are one way that helps HR and L&D managers identify and train leaders across all departments.
A fit competency model can help reduce attrition, retain your most valuable employees, and encourage others to put in more effort.
💡 Discover what a leadership competency model is and how to create one for your organization in five steps.
Effective and transparent communication
You can solve any problem with effective communication.
As a change leader, you must align your team with the organization's goals.
Needless to say, effective communication is a non-negotiable skill for getting your team on the same page and implementing a macro-level organizational change.
Informal training for the workforce
Informal training for the workforce will brace them for the change and help them be more prepared.
Conduct workshops where you engage employees adequately through activities, mentorship, and more.
You must encourage team bonding activities like retreats, so the employees don't feel burnt out and disconnected.
Offsites, retreats, and all-hands meetings are great ways for everyone across different teams to get to know each other better.
This enables them to identify each person's contribution to the larger business goal and come back to work together as a unit.
➡️ Here's an excellent resource for HR managers to implement change through elevated employee experience.
➡️ Build more effective change leaders at your organization with Zavvy
The proprietary technology at Zavvy has been developed by studying best-in-class change management, leadership, and HR practices while being in touch with the evolving needs of the modern workforce.
✔️ Zavvy's dynamic program: Become a Change Leader, is readily available in the one place your employees frequent most: Slack.
✔️ It is customizable for individual or group learning.
✔️ With byte-sized micro-lessons covering communication, stress management, and conflict management, you will genuinely prepare your employees to be ambassadors of change.
✔️You'll get timely nudges and can even see your progress as you go.
Zavvy is already helping forward-thinking companies create a new generation of leaders. One example is how Freeletics, Europe's No. 1 fitness app, used Zavvy to help its people managers take a step forward and become influential leaders.
Top executives at Freeletics struggled with time to sit down and learn regularly and the lack of peer-to-peer interaction to share their learnings. With Zavvy's blended solution, they could incorporate innovative ways to impart and promote leadership training: micro-learning, manager roundtable, and more.
The result? Check it out for yourself.
Team Zavvy embraces change, which is why we've built solutions to help you deploy change smoothly and efficiently.
- 🌱 Growth plans: We strongly believe you can't grow your business without growing your people.
- 🔄 360 feedback: Gain powerful insights from all your employees during times of transition. Our 360 feedback tool makes it easy to gather, collate and act upon valuable insights from your entire team.
- 💪 Manager training: Help your managers become fantastic change leaders by providing actionable guidance in the flow of work.
Are you interested in building a new generation of change leaders in your company? Let us help! Book a 30 minutes demo to discover the many benefits of Zavvy's employee enablement suite.