Every leader must be a change agent or face extinction | Daily News


Leading the flock into greener pastures – Part 29

Every leader must be a change agent or face extinction

Business demands fluidity, which requires leaders to embrace change and take risks. Put simply, if you’re not ready to lead change then you’re not ready to lead full stop. Leadership is not a static endeavour. Successful managers not only acknowledge the need for business development but also are willing and able to navigate their team through change.

The prospect of change can be daunting. But if managed correctly, the process doesn’t have to be painful. In today’s fast-paced society, the difference between success and failure can lie in a company’s ability to adapt. Fail to grow your business and adjust to new ways of thinking, and your business will stagnate and die. Change in the business world is not an option, but a prerequisite for success. And leading change effectively is essential for development.

As a leader, you need to face this concept of “change” and be competent and confident about implementing the change. Let us explore some of the dilemmas that you may encounter as a change agent who’s responsible for introducing and making changes work in your team.

Dealing with new changes

Although some of the causes of change may be new, such as recent advances in information technology, many of the problems of introducing change in organisations have been around for decades, because they’re associated with human nature.

Here are some of the most common problems or concerns that people have about changes happening in their workplace that you need to bear in mind:

Continuity: Most people seem to be creatures of habit; you’ve probably noticed, for example, that people tend to sit in the same seats in meetings. Change, by definition, disrupts continuity in the workplace because people often have to adapt to new structures, processes and so on.

Control: Many people like to have a high degree of control in their lives. Changes can cause people to feel less in control and even worry about coping with increased workloads, requiring new skills and so on.

Convenience: People tend to organise themselves and their lives into routines that enable them to cope with the complexities and demands of working in a modern world. Personal routines may include start and finish times, when they take their lunch and so.

Security: People are naturally concerned about how they fulfil their financial commitments, and the consequences of not doing so for themselves and, perhaps, their family.

Social: Changes can result in the loss of a person’s status as well as alterations in team membership, personal friendships, reporting relationships and so on.

You may also experience two other potential problems when leading your team, which result from the introduction of advances in technology:

Immediate access: Email and mobile phones enable people to keep in touch, but access to the technology is probably creating expectations among your colleagues - especially your boss that you’re always accessible regardless of where you are. I know several managers who book fictitious meetings (with themselves) in their electronic diaries to prevent their work colleagues ‘stealing’ all of their time by booking meetings without asking for their permission.

Invisibility: Email, laptops and mobile phones are enabling more and more people to work from home for at least part of the time. Although the effective use of technology offers productivity gains due to, for example, time saved on travelling, quiet work areas and so on, you may have concerns about whether you can trust certain people who are out of sight to be as productive as you expect them to be.

Base your approach to leading people who are out of your sight on trusting them to be productive rather than mistrusting them - until they prove otherwise!

If your approach to leading them is based on mistrust, you’re more likely to check up on what they’re doing and ask them to justify their work. If people perceive that you mistrust them, this perception can adversely affect their attitude to doing a good job for you.

A better approach is to agree the objectives or results that a person has to achieve when working out of your sight instead of talking in detail about what she’s going to be doing: that way you’re both clear about the work that has to completed for her to be productive while giving her the autonomy to organise and manage how she uses her time.

Introduction of change

You probably have some experience of changes being introduced into your workplace within your current or previous jobs. Take a few minutes to reflect on your experiences and clarify your own expectations about how you prefer to be treated when changes are introduced that affect you and how you do your work. Doing so helps you to appreciate the concerns and potential reactions of others.

The main things that ‘get up people’s noses’ about the introduction of change are as follows:

(a) Lack of information.

People want to know: The reasons why the change is being introduced, particularly the benefits of, and consequences of not, changing. Why the change is being introduced now. How the change is likely to affect them, especially regarding their role and responsibilities, conditions of employment, working relationships and so on.

(b) Too little or no involvement. People want to contribute to making their organisation successful, and often contribute valuable ideas and suggestions even if their suggestions adversely affect them. For example, the number of employees who volunteered to take a cut in wages or a pay freeze to help their organisations cope with the economic downturn over the last two years is unprecedented.

(c) Wrong speed of change. Change may be introduced so fast that people can’t internalise the change and come to terms with it, or so slowly that it causes unnecessary worry or grief. Introduce the change as quickly as you can, complete a robust analysis of the need for a change, make the necessary decisions and formulate your plan while considering how easy or difficult the people affected will find it to come to terms with the proposed change.

(d) Not being treated like adults. Tell the truth; people can handle it and respect you for being honest with them.

(e) Dithering. Nothing’s wrong with taking as much time as is required to arrive at the right decision. However, people resent persistently being told that something is ‘on its way’ or ‘going through channels’, so avoid these approaches where possible.

Swimming with sharks and surviving!

You may sometimes be involved in introducing changes in your workplace that cause you to feel like you’re swimming with sharks: everyone seems out to get you! People often get emotional when major problems are being experienced in their organisation that result in the need to make significant changes such as a reorganisation of the structure, the removal of overtime or bonuses, redundancies and so on.

When people experience such situations they often need to: (a) Express their views strongly. (b) Ask questions - that may be difficult to answer! (c) Criticise senior managers. When everyone is directing their frustration and even anger at you, don’t fall into the trap of taking the whole world upon your shoulders. By all means be committed to contributing to improving the situation, but don’t allow yourself to be downhearted or drown in a sea of emotions. Although taking this advice can be difficult, But it is worth trying.

Riding the waves successfully.

People react differently to changes being introduced into the workplace. Here are three roles that you may experience people adopting:

(a) Drifters. These people don’t have any strong views about a proposed change and are willing to ‘go with the flow’. They don’t resist the change being introduced or proactively support it. They may experience some of the emotions described for ‘wavers’ (below) but only slightly.

(b) Surfers. These people see a proposed change as an opportunity; they’ve been watching and waiting for the change to be introduced, want to get on with it and seize the opportunity that the change presents. They’re typically enthusiastic about the change and volunteer to help make the change happen successfully; all you have to do is harness their enthusiasm.

(3) Wavers. These people have concerns about the proposed change and may go through a range of emotions and experience a changing sense of self-esteem as a consequence of their views.

Wavers will reflect different shapes. (a) Some might say: No, it’s not happening! Emotions - the wave - rise as people who’ve become aware of a possible change propose to each other that management can’t be serious about the change. People may bond closer together during this period due to their common view about the change.

Some may take a serious note of what is happening. As they realise that management too are serious about the change, they may become numb - the top of the wave. They resist the change, probably through voicing criticisms of the change and not working hard instead of active sabotage.

Some others say let’s make it work! Self-esteem - the wave - rises as people are positive about, and actively work on, making the change work. Some might comment “Haven’t we done well enough!” People are on the crest of the wave, feeling good about themselves due to their contribution to making the change work and getting the new way of working established.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with long experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer. He could be contacted on [email protected])

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