09/08/11

By David Bowler co-founder, Incisive Edge, www.incisive-edge.com

Significant change requires skilled management. Research suggests that the way in which an organisation changes is secondary to how competent employees perceive management to be.

Poor leadership can mean an absence of hope and a lack of trust in the management team. Importantly, once this trust is lost, it is difficult to re-establish that connection with employees.

There are three stages to change and it is important to recognise the managerial skills that are needed at each stage:

Preparation

During the preparation phase, careful consideration of all the options is vital. All too often, change is thrust upon people by the management without realisation of the implications it may have. Whilst this approach may meet the speed of change required, without alignment of employees to that change, realistically, it is never going to stand a chance of success.

Build awareness: Change takes time and during this preparation stage, it is important to address why change is so necessary. Build the awareness of employees so there are no big surprises.

Be open: You can’t always tell people the whole story and sometimes, it is simply not wise to. However, be as open as possible and give straight answers to straight questions. Employees can always tell when you’re faking it.

Be receptive: Staff may not agree with the changes — you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to. However, it is your job to be receptive to their viewpoint, to be open and direct and try and allay their concerns. Recognise that they are entitled to hold an opinion and although it may be different to that of the management, try and glean information from your discussions that may make the change management process more effective.

Discuss: The bottom line is that people generally and genuinely want to be involved in the change process. Nobody likes to be blind-sided or made to feel that their opinion does not count. Discuss rather than announce the changes and make it an inclusive process throughout the business.

Moving through

From announcement to installation of change is a critical time. People are looking to you for guidance, for the next steps and to steer the ship. Your role as a leader is of paramount importance through this period.

Motivate: Staying motivated throughout a period of change is a struggle for everyone. You need to build the confidence of employees and really bring out the benefits of the change process. Recognise negative feelings, but don’t over-indulge them.

Recognise you won’t know all the answers: Whilst people may think you have all the answers, this is a change for you too. You are expected to lead and there’s no getting away from that, but give yourself a break too and ensure that you have people you can turn to. They can be your greatest asset and resource in managing your own time and energy.

Consistency: One of the greatest skills a manager can possess is that of consistency. However, it is one of the most difficult to display as it requires you to be constant on every single level; your behaviour, your managerial style, your leadership capabilities and your effectiveness. Consistency requires a careful combination of thought and action. Think about how you want to be viewed as leading the change and ensure your implementation matches with this.

Lead by example: Whilst you may not agree with all the changes that are taking place, for effective leadership, you have to be the flag-bearer of the changes. People will look to you and your behaviour and take their lead from you.

Post-change

Effective managers will find their teams are ready to move forward during this stage. It is a time to introduce positive improvements and improve quality management, while giving hope of new beginnings and future growth.

Be patient: Change does not happen overnight. We’re all aware of that. It is essential therefore to keep encouragement high on your agenda. Constant reiteration of the reasons for the change and the positive benefits that everyone will derive from it are necessary as is reinforcement of the key elements of the change process. This will ensure that it remains top of everyone’s agenda and not just yours.

Coach & develop:[ We can all do with a little help at times and one of the key skills of a leader is to help develop people to cope with and grow through the change process. Formal development is great, but just as effective is constant ‘on the job’ development. This takes time, skill and patience, but the rewards for the individual and the company can be enormous.

Be passionate: Passion and enthusiasm are catching and a great skill, or even art form in a leader. There are days when we all find it difficult to muster any enthusiasm, but it’s your role to ensure you keep motivation and energy levels high. Cultivate an open and inclusive environment where you actively welcome thoughts, suggestions and contributions.

Keep communicating: And finally, if there’s one skill that should prevail above all others, it’s to keep communicating. People don’t like to be left in the dark, gossip prevails and rumours abound. Regular communication breaks down barriers and fosters a culture of openness.