In the past, when the rate of change was slower, leaders could get by without being an expert in managing change. Today, however, it’s a completely different story. We all know that change is happening at an exponential rate in virtually every corner of business and life in general. Being an effective change agent is no longer just a nice leadership skill to have. It has become an essential leadership competency.
Arguably the most difficult part of leading change successfully is generating the motivation and momentum to inspire others to WANT to do things differently – to want to change and to recognise the benefits of doing so. As humans, we generally prefer to maintain the status quo because making a change can be difficult and as psychologists attest, behaviour is related to reward. As a change agent, leaders have to prove that the new behaviour, or change will lead to a better behaviour or reward than what they had before.
While there are many models that deal with the best way to build a case for change, the best results will be achieved by focusing on four key areas that are fundamental to making any change successful:
1. Build a comprehensive understanding of how things are now
Understand the current position and be clear on what works well or not so well. Consider what will happen when the change is made and what the impact on various people will be, whether they are employees, customers, partners or other stakeholders.
2. Find clarity on the drivers behind the change
Research the factors behind the change comprehensively and provide complete clarity on what is driving the change. Don’t be afraid to challenge the data so you can develop a robust understanding on why the change is needed.
3. Develop a compelling vision of how things will be in the future
To facilitate change, you need to be clear on the desired future state. This can be achieved by asking how things will be different. What will people feel, see, hear and experience? What will the benefits of making the change be, and how do they link to the initial drivers of change? The answers to these questions will help to establish a compelling vision of the future, creating greater clarity in the business case for the change.
4. Concentrate on achieving buy-in
Businesses don’t make changes, people do. Businesses react to the changes and for that reason it is imperative that leaders get people’s buy-in in any change process. This is not exactly an easy task but one that is critical to supporting successful change none the less. It’s also something that will be immeasurably easier if points one and three are covered.
By following these four essential steps, leaders can develop a new skillset as successful agents of change. In doing so, they will be strengthening their organisation’s agility in an age where we are quickly learning to not only expect the unexpected, but to be able to quickly react to the unexpected too.