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Cheat Sheet

Leading Business Change For Dummies

From Leading Business Change For Dummies by Christina Tangora Schlachter, Terry H. Hildebrandt, MA, MA, PCC

Business change comes in many varieties, yet most change types share one goal: to achieve a more productive, efficient, and adaptable organization. During changes — whether they are the result of a merger and acquisition, a technology implementation, or other large-scale change — people need visible leadership, ongoing, effective communication, and a cohesive effort toward building a sustainable structure.

Creating Visible Leadership to Make Business Change Successful

Change is a constant in the world of business, and when faced with business change, leaders can respond in one of the following three ways:

  1. Do nothing and just hope it all works out.

  2. Manage it with a project plan from a cubicle or corner office.

  3. Lead the change with words and actions that support the future state.

Successfully led changes, with visible leadership, result in shorter project timelines, widespread ownership of the change, and an organization ready to take on future challenges.

What is visible leadership? Visible leadership includes three key components: setting a vision, actively discussing the change, and knowing the impact.

Setting a clear vision for leadership

The first job for a leader who wants to visibly and proactively drive change is to create a crystal clear vision of what the future will look like for the employees and then communicate it with passion. Leaders do this by walking employees through the status quo or “the current way things are done around here” to the desired state of where the organization wants to be once the change happens. Change leaders build a powerful case for the change, then work relentlessly to generate understanding and consensus.

Actively discussing the business change

Change leaders don’t just wave a magic wand and then hide out until the change is done. Visible leadership means the change leaders are out there talking about the change, adjusting their own behaviors to align with the change strategy, and actively addressing concerns voiced by employees.

Knowing the impact of change in a business

During change, visible leadership focuses on helping to identify negative reactions and barriers and knocking them down one by one. Common barriers to change may come from fear — fear of losing control, losing status, diminished compensation, loss of job security, or being asked to take on a bigger workload. Visible leaders help to align agendas and balance interests to reduce concerns and conflicts.

Communicating with People Impacted by Business Change

Successful change requires creating and maintaining continuous, honest, succinct messages. There is no way around it. Here are the three crucial aspects of successful two-way communication:

  • Develop a clear communication plan: A practical communication plan will make sure that stakeholders are informed about the goals and processes for the change. Communication, depending on how well you do it, can become the biggest barrier to change or your best friend.

  • Know your stakeholders: In your communication plan, know your stakeholders and address their needs. Segment, understand, and prioritize the needs and motives of the stakeholders. Involvement builds commitment and significantly increases the likelihood of a successful transformation. Stakeholders — for they are your customers in this endeavor — can be a powerful force in driving the change.

  • Involve the people affected by the change: Involvement in powerful, results-driven change often becomes a badge of honor for employees. Ways in which you can involve employees include having them help create new roles and responsibilities, be change agents themselves, and take on leadership roles in skill building.

Business Change Communication Checklist

Who would have thought communicating business change was so interesting, dynamic, and, quite frankly, so much work? If your head is spinning with ideas and you’re ready to go out there and communicate far and wide, wonderful! If not, take a step back. Breathe. And then work through the following communication checklist to get you partnering and creating dialogue as fast as your ears and mouth can carry you.

Answer the three big questions:

  • Where is the project headed?

  • What’s in it for me (from the employees’ perspective)?

  • How are we going to get there?

Fine-tune your messages based the answers to those three big questions as they fit into the vision for the project. Then:

  • Create your communication plan.

  • Keep communication fresh, frequent, and flowing.

  • Mix up how the message gets across. Have face-to-face meetings, conference calls, and other interactive communication. Change does not happen by e-mail.

Throughout your communication messages, keep these questions in mind:

  • What’s going on now?

  • What will happen next?

  • What do I need to do?

Be sure you are doing all of the following:

  • Enlisting and educating managers and directors to help you communicate the change. Don’t just let your project team leader or CEO do all the talking!

  • Repeating yourself. Repeating yourself. Repeating yourself. You will need to repeat critical messages five, six, seven, or maybe even more times. Go out there and communicate like crazy.

  • Defining your target audience and secondary audience. Be sure you’ve thought about all your target audience members and included them in your communication plan.

  • Evaluating your communication using feedback tools. Always go back and adjust your message if necessary — and communicate again and again.

Building a Sustainable Structure to Make Business Change Stick

Change is only as good as the length of time it lasts in the organization. The last thing you want is to spend enormous amounts of money and time only to find that a year down the road everything has reverted back to how things used to be.

Make the change stick by doing these four things:

  • Think strategically: To drive change, develop a documented and detailed action plan for change. A good plan helps you know where to invest in change and focus your efforts on the areas where the payback will be greatest.

  • Integrate your initiatives: An unplanned patchwork of change initiatives will promote bitter competition for resources, confuse employees, and reduce the positive impact of any one initiative. A cohesive set of initiatives will work together toward business objectives and present an integrated business strategy to employees. This will also help you leverage organizational knowledge, so employees are working smarter, not harder.

  • Over-invest in people: Over-invest in human capital. Build skills in your people at all levels. Broaden the technical, problem-solving, decision-making, and leadership skills of those in the trenches. Strengthen the facilitation, managerial, delegation, listening, communication, and diversity skills of those at the top. Employees will create extraordinary results when skill building is part of performance measures across the organization.

  • Reshape how you measure things: Change will require people to act differently. Build your vision and then design new measures that are consistent with its strategies and goals. If necessary, dismantle old measures and create ones that not only measure performance, but also the commitment to change. Clear goals and quantitative milestones along the way help keep change efforts focused on improving business performance, not just generating slogans without substance.

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