When it comes to change, all executives (including seasoned ones) fall into one of two camps:
Discomfort which arises from the risks associated with change is normal. The reactions of those uncomfortable with change are reasonable – uncertainty, fear, uneasiness, sense of loss for the “current/old way”, loss of control, etc.
Change Brings Opportunity
Even those who embrace change may share some of those same sentiments. But those in the “Embrace Change” camp assess the risk and recognize that change brings opportunity. If things stay the same, then they follow the established boundaries – roles, responsibilities, hierarchy, process, etc. Only when things change, is there an opportunity to define new paradigms and align on new ideas and visions such as new strategies, reporting structures, roles and processes. And if you’re really good at what you do, you often have the opportunity to influence the change and seize the opportunity the change presents.
Empathy Suggests Gradual Change
As leaders, we are empathetic to the pace at which we drive change and the organization's and other stakeholders’ abilities to consume that change, for all the reasons people dislike change outlined above. You’ll often hear someone suggest things like: “Let’s do this in phases”, “Let’s let things settle in for a while before we implement more change”, “People are stressed – they need some stability”, and so on. Such sentiments make complete rational sense, but experience has taught me…they’re wrong.
The Need for Speed: Faster Change Provides Earlier Clarity
As Maverick and Goose exalted in the original Top Gun movie:
“I feel the need…”
“…the need for speed.”
In a highly competitive space dominated by large, established companies, we pursued the competitive advantage associated with being nimble. While the senior executive leader of strategy and later, as part of the C-Suite, in order to be able to flex the company quickly as opportunities and challenges arose, we successfully architected and transformed our $6B Fortune 500 business and our 40,000 employee organization. We reorganized from a decentralized business unit structure each with their own priorities to a wholly centralized organization, aligned by function and centered around a single, common set of company business priorities. The change enabled us to build an agile company capable of strategically flexing – budget, resources, skills – with speed.
Regardless of your believed best organizational design or frankly, the type of change being led, the lesson learned applies. Leading that change was incredibly complex and difficult, but we learned the need for speed. However fast we thought we were implementing and driving change, experience taught us that we should have gone faster. Pause a minute for that to sink in... going faster and making changes sooner drives more successful change.
Rather than leading an extended transformation with change trickling out over time in hopes that stakeholders (including employees) would “catch up“ and be ready to consume more change, the experience taught us to just “rip off the band-aid.” Employees in particular, and other stakeholders too, seek certainty. Ongoing uncertainty and repeated change drives employees to expect “the other shoe to drop” and is exhausting for all stakeholders – those driving the change, those impacted and even those not affected. It drives a fatigue among employees that manifests in apathy, disengagement and lowered productivity. And for the best performing employees, the lack of certainty can motivate them to seek other opportunities that may exist outside the organization.
Change is going to be uncomfortable (period). So, the sooner we can communicate a clear vision of the end state and provide clarity to those on the team – both those who will be impacted and those who won’t – the sooner stakeholders can begin to get comfortable with the new world order or worst case, can decide it is not for them and opt out. While change is never complete or over, notifying the organization that change associated with a specific initiative is complete clarifies that it is time to move forward.
Embracing speed alone does not dictate that change will be successful. There are numerous other factors that influence the success of change including an effective and aligned team, a well-thought out and articulated plan and good process to ensure alignment and ongoing communication. The leadership team must continuously interact and communicate like a well-oiled machine, assess progress, learn and adapt as they go. Communication to the broader organization and stakeholders must be relevant, timely and frequent.
The change itself must be well-thought out and rationalized with a candid understanding of the “as is” and “to be” states as well as the path to get there, the opportunities and importantly, the risks.
Need to Sit Down?
Feeling a little light headed as you read this? Wondering how it is possible to go faster with change? Questioning whether you have the stomach and leadership know-how to get yourself and your organization there?
Understanding how to architect change, your key strengths and when/how you can “dial up” these behaviors as well as recognizing potentially derailing behaviors that show up under stress can make all the difference in leading change successfully. As can benefitting from the experience of others.
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Lisa Andrade is founder and CEO of M33, an executive coaching and leadership development company proven in both the “executive” and “coaching” in executive coaching. M33 leverages the art of leadership and advanced leadership science to create an executive blueprint tailored to you and your organization. For an initial consultation with Lisa, contact M33 at ClientServices@M33LLC.com.