Leading when Change is on the Menu

Who among us hasn’t dealt with the need to implement and manage change?  Whether focusing on a large-scale organizational change or a small-scale “in my department” adjustment, every leader is faced with the responsibility to execute and manage change.

Some of us become excited and energized by the possibilities while others are much more hesitant and, quite frankly, terrified.  No matter the initial reaction we realize the importance of the tasks ahead of us as well as the need to “lead the change” by bringing others along with us on the journey.  Quite often we characterize this move as “needing to get everyone reading from the same menu.”

As a leader with change management responsibilities, whether one is eager or reticent, there are a few general steps to follow in order to make any initiative successful:

Define the Purpose – It’s crucial to identify why this is being done including the reason and the necessity.  The change leader will start by defining the business case including why it’s necessary to move forward with the change.  In addition, it’s important to clarify why it’s good to undertake the endeavor and why it would be bad if no steps are taken and the status quo is maintained.

Lay the Foundation – The leader has the responsibility for laying the groundwork for how the change will be accomplished.  This includes steps, timelines/deadlines, roles, procedures and processes.  At this stage the leader can identify champions who will assist in this high-priority planning stage and who will then have critical roles in various steps of the change process.   

Share the Message – Throughout all phases of the change continuum the leader must be honest, authentic and truthful.  Individuals involved will want (and need) an answer to the classic question “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?”  Success will become much easier if people are free to ask questions, explore ideas and express their apprehension.

Listen to the Feedback - As the process moves onward it’s imperative that the change leader regularly listens to all involved.  Do people still understand the purpose of the change?  Have newly formed assumptions taken anyone off-course?  Are there rumors that need to be addressed?

Resistance will occur which may be either outright and visible or subtle and hidden, sometimes surfacing as passive-aggressive behavior.  But rather than viewing this as an obstacle or impediment, it can be invaluable to view this resistance as an opportunity that provides one with the chance to reinforce the meaning and purpose, adjust the processes (if necessary) and communicate the message once again.

As the change initiative unfolds the leader will serve in a role similar to Chef de Cuisine – stirring the dish, adding additional seasoning and adjusting the temperature.

Merely announcing that change will come without the accompanying how, why and what will not get people reading from the same menu.  Let alone give them the opportunity to enjoy the meal.

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