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  • Matt Brown

How do you Lead in Times of Change?

On a thought-provoking webinar I recently attended organised by the US based Center for Leadership Studies entitled ‘Adaptable Leadership: It’s Situational AND Social’, Dr Sam Shriver, the Executive Vice President, introduced the webinar by stating that the one of the two key areas in Leadership Development is Change Management, the other being Performance Management (particularly in relation to the role of the leader in enabling their people to meet their potential). There is no doubt that the ability to lead in times of change is one of the key competencies of effective Leadership in the 21st Century.

Firstly, one of the most important skills a leader needs is to understand how individual employees react when faced with change, and the two questions that they need answered:

1. Will it hurt me? (as in, is my job secure or how will it impact on my workload?)

2. What’s in it for me?

with the second one only coming into play once the first has been answered. However, what happens in too many businesses is that when the change initiative is launched the key focus is on how the business will benefit. Don’t take this the wrong way but your people don’t care! Or at least they won’t care until you have answered the two questions that they have, so focus on how the change will impact on them, and then once you have addressed that you can sell the business benefits of the change.

The second thing to consider, and once again here you need to be focusing on the impact on your employees, is illustrated by the Kubler-Ross Change Curve:

Originally designed to reflect how people react to the loss of a loved one, this diagram also shows the reactions that individuals go through when faced with change, regardless of whether the change is positive or negative.

Usually when you are launching the change to your team you have already been aware of it for a period of time and are probably already at ‘acceptance’ so struggle to understand why your people are at the stages of ‘denial’ or ‘anger’. Remember how you reacted when you were first aware of the change, so that you can empathise with how your team are reacting, rather than judging them against how you are feeling now. Also, it is useful to look at the four stages highlighted on this diagram to see the different approach you as a leader need to adopt as your people move along the curve, to accelerate their progress towards acceptance.

In William Bridges’ book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change” which I have recently finished listening (I am a big fan of the Audible app!) there were a couple of passages that really resonated with me:

Firstly, focussing on the Three Phases of Transition (and there is a distinct difference between change – an event, and transition – a psychological adaption), the almost contradictory statement that transition starts with an ending and ends with a beginning. This means that people are not actually reacting to the change, what they are reacting to is the loss of the old way (the end). To tackle this, you need to focus on the positives of the new way (the beginning), not the failings of the old way – you don’t want to imply that your team has spent years doing it wrong!

The second point William Bridges makes is about the ‘hard’ skills needed to achieve successful change. There is often too much emphasis on the ‘soft’ skills necessary to support achievement of the desired outcome but using the DICE acronym helps to ensure that both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ elements are considered:

D Duration (of the change initiative or between reviews)

I Integrity (of performance – the ability to complete the change on time)

C Commitment (to the change)

E Effort (need, over and above the ‘day-job’. This is particularly relevant to your employees)

The E takes you back to the start of this article, and the first question employees ask when faced by a change initiative – Will it hurt me, how will this impact on my workload?

So, make sure that you consider the DICE when you are leading in times of change.

If you would like to know more about this and other Leadership concepts or believe that you or your managers would benefit from training in this area please contact Develop Your People by email at:

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