Three Must Do’s for Leaders Leading Through Change May 28 2014

bandaid1As reported in the New York Times this week, the World Bank is in the midst of a two year restructuring effort. The basic goal of the change is to shift from the Bank’s decades-long regional structure to one that is organized around areas of functional expertise. Another goal is to reduce expenses. Everyone’s world is being rocked there and the criticism and rumors are flying.

If you’ve spent any time in a large company or agency, you’ve probably lived through something like this and know how painful it can be. It’s kind of like ripping a really sticky Band-Aid off bit by bit so you feel every hair on your arm being plucked out one by one. At least with the Band-Aid, you can see the end of it; with big organizational changes that’s not usually the case.

Keeping everyone engaged and productive during a big change is a very tough job for leaders at all levels. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know and, chances are, you can’t talk about a lot of the stuff you do know. So, what do you do when you’re a leader who’s trying to keep your team focused in the midst of big change?

Based on a lot of experience coaching managers and executives in exactly that situation, I have some must-do’s for leaders leading through change. The must-do’s fall in three big categories – yourself, your team and your peers – and here they are:

Yourself: Double-down on self-care in times like these. If you’re a designated leader, there’s going to be a lot of people looking to you for direction and watching you for clues about what’s really going on. If you’re showing up stressed out and torqued out, they’re going to assume the worst. Get your sleep, get your exercise, eat healthy food. You need to show up at your best right now. That starts with taking care of yourself.

Your Team: Engage. To be more specific, be visible. Talk with people. Share what you can share when you can share it. Ask what people are hearing. Address the crazy rumors. Keep people focused on the plan and on controlling what they can control (their own actions). Don’t hibernate or hide. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of real information, people are going to make stuff up. Share the truth as you know it and as much as you can share it.

Your Peers: Stay connected with your peers. Problem solve together. Kibitz and vent, then decide what you can do together to make a positive difference. Understand each other’s priorities and concerns and do your best to get on the same page. Stay on the lookout for those times when you and your peers need to make a united stand.

In 500 words or less, that’s my starter list of must do’s for leaders leading through change. What’s on your list of leading through change must-do’s?

4 Responses to “Three Must Do’s for Leaders Leading Through Change”

  1. Angie Nuttle says:

    Hi Scott, good post. I think a "must do" is for the leader to proactively seek information above them. It seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes leaders just WAIT for answers to come instead of going out and talking to leaders across the business. If your people see you seeking answers and transparently sharing, they are more willing to trust that you are keeping them in the loop.

  2. Tricia Hollingsworth says:

    Great post Scott, thank you.
    A MUST: communicate . . . communicate . . . communicate

  3. K Bickel says:

    Hi Scott. I like how your framework plays off of your mindfulness theme. I think it's particularly good for new leaders. I would add a new lens to the prism, for the top-most leader(s). One, acknowledge what went wrong with prior change, or why it worked but won't going forward (both without laying blame). Two, develop metrics that will show over time how this change will elevate the organization (profits or mission) more(!) than staying the course would have. Three, acknowledge when the change may not be working or is off course. Only by telling the truth to your followers can you truly achieve the emotional and psychic buy-in that obtains alignment to make true change possible. Otherwise, you're just a politician engaging in change to show how you're different from the last guy and deserve the check the Board is cutting you.

  4. Barry Gruenberg says:

    I agree entirely with all your points, Scott. Being proactive in seeking out information and providing as much transparency as you can on what is happening and why, are incredibly important. Building trust that you will share as much as you can, and actively seeking out rumors and other efforts to make sense out of what's happening are really important, as people are liable to fear the worst. Even being clear about what you don't know is important and needs to be communicated frequently. Beyond this, being clear on what the change is intended to achieve and providing metrics of success are also critically important. Telling people "just do it" is not useful. Lastly, acknowledging that all change entails loss and honoring that loss can really make a difference.

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