Lead your organization through major change

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These days, it seems that the words “business” and “change” go hand in hand. From dealing with regulatory changes and economic shifts to responding to new customer demands and emerging technologies, sudden and externally mandated changes affect organizations of all sizes.

When change is forced upon you, making the shift is often more stressful and more difficult than when you thoughtfully decide to take your organization in a new direction. After all, making a change that you plan for is exciting and filled with opportunity, while making a change due to outside forces putting pressure on you is filled with risk and unpredictability.

Unfortunately, most organizations resist these externally mandated changes and are slow to respond. They fear the risk involved, and as a result they miss many opportunities. Change under external circumstances is scary because you often don’t know if the changes you’re making are going to work. Additionally, the change may mean you have to alter your company’s values or culture, and those sorts of changes don’t come easy.

The fact is that embracing any type of externally motivated change requires both courage and planning. Following are some suggestions for making the change process easier and more successful.

1. Assess your company’s current talent potential.

When dealing with externally motivated change, a good leader needs the emotional maturity to maximize and leverage the strengths of the people within the organization. Depending on the size of the company or department, you may not have daily contact with those you lead. Therefore, take the time to go back and assess who you have working for you and what skill sets they have. Chances are some will have developed new skills and strengths since they were originally hired. Therefore, determine how the company can best use the people you already have to make the change successful. Most people overlook the talent that’s right under their nose and think they need to look outside for the skills to best move the company forward.

2. If you do need outside talent, hire people who know more than you do.

Many times, those charged with hiring people don’t want to hire anyone who is strong, assertive, or more knowledgeable than they are. They think these new hires will make them look bad—or even worse take their job. In reality, if you hire people who are strong and know more than you do, you’re going to fare better during the change process. Realize that when the organization does well, everyone looks good, not just one person. However, if the organization fails, people typically look for one person to blame—usually the leader. The only way your company can sustain its momentum during and after the change is to have strong people on board.

3. Create an environment that encourages continuous learning. 

The knowledge you and your people possess has long-term value for the organization. If you stop learning, you stop having the ability to contribute to the continued development of the organization. Learning is vital, because things change so quickly—technology changes, the industry changes, the marketplace changes, etc. You have to keep up and know what’s state-of-the-art to stay relevant to customers. Therefore, encourage your staff to attend seminars, read books, stay abreast of industry news, and seek internal feedback and mentoring. The more learning opportunities people have, the more valued they’ll feel, and the more they’ll want to contribute to the change process.

4. Hold people to their commitments. 

No change will ever be complete if people abandon their responsibilities midstream. That’s why you need to hold people accountable for what they commit to. To do so, first make sure they have the skills needed to do the job. If they don’t, there’s no way they’ll be successful. Then you need to monitor their progress and evaluate how they are contributing (or not contributing) to the change process. Realize that monitoring doesn’t mean micromanaging. It simply means keeping the pulse of the whole work flow to ensure all the pieces of the process fit together and are getting done. When you find that someone isn’t contributing effectively, you must be willing to confront the person and deal with the problem in a constructive way that gets the work back on track.

5. In messaging, be clear, consistent, and continuous when communicating the vision and goals.

You have to be clear and consistent about the change, about what’s occurring, about what needs to occur, and about the vision and goals for the company. Spell out where the company is going as well as the plan to get there. When you are not clear and/or consistent, your message gets garbled and people don’t understand it. That’s when problems happen and change becomes risky. You think you’re communicating one thing but no one understands your real message, so they pull in a different direction. That’s why you must make sure everyone is on the same page. Also, don’t just relay the message once: you have to consistently revisit it and make sure everyone is still on board. Allow people to ask questions and, if possible, to contribute to the message. People buy into an idea more easily if they feel they took part in shaping it.

Approach Change Proactively

Change that’s mandated from outside factors is often uncomfortable, but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. In fact, when approached correctly, this sort of change can open your eyes to new possibilities, new customer bases, new revenue streams, and even new product and service offerings. So tackle these externally influenced changes proactively and you’ll have the upper hand. Not only will you fare better than your competitors during the change, but you’ll also emerge as the marketplace leader. And that’s one change you definitely want to occur.

Danita Johnson Hughes, Ph.D. is a healthcare industry executive, public speaker and author of the forthcoming “Turnaround.” In her first book, “Power from Within,” Danita shares her “Power Principles for Success” that helped her overcome meager beginnings and achieve professional, community and personal success. For more information visit www.danitajohnsonhughes.com, or write to her at danitahughes@edgewatersystems.org.

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