At the risk of stating the obvious, the pandemic sucked. It was a change that happened to us. We all took a hit. No one looks forward to disruptions like that . . . unless they are causing it. The pandemic made a bold statement to every organization: Be adaptable or face irrelevance. Many stepped up and emerged stronger than before lockdowns ruled the world.
How did they do it?
I’ve been leading transformational, disruptive change in organizations for more than 25 years, working with leaders at every level of the organization. There is a recipe for leading successful change. Each strategy adds an important flavor to the mix. Leave one out, and that will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
So, how do you lead disruptive change?
1. Set a clear goal
Always begin with the end in mind. Sounds simple, but it takes real foresight to be able to set a goal and paint a clear picture for stakeholders that helps them get a real sense of what the future state will be like. Getting it right can spark deep levels of buy-in.
2. Identify all stakeholders
Who is impacted by this change? Consider who will need to do something different. And not just them, but the indirect stakeholders as well: who will feel a ripple effect from the change?
3. Assess impacts
What exactly will people need to do as a result of this change? Will it be a net gain or a net pain? Don’t neglect the cost of change. People need an honest assessment of how challenging it will be to adapt to a change.
4. Develop a change plan
People are not impacted equally. Stakeholders belong to different groups: such as accounting, IT, drivers, and quality control. They view the change in different ways with different interests. How will you ensure each gets what they need to be successful? How will you communicate in a way that is meaningful to them? Develop a group-by-group plan that illustrates how messaging, skill development, and leader actions will be tailored to facilitate adoption and support.
5. Lead the change
Change doesn’t occur by memo. Leaders need to get out there in front of people and ensure messages are received. They have to shake hands, listen, and respond to the tough questions. Doing so consistently generates trust and credibility.
6. Execute the plan
See step 4. Make it happen!
7. Communicate effectively
Projections of market share and customer feedback are interesting, but stories are far more inspiring. Keep telling stories about the future you will attain, as well as how small wins are happening along the way. Tell the story of employees taking important steps towards change. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
8. Remove barriers
The road to a new destination is rarely without a few potholes. Connect with your stakeholders and brainstorm potential issues that could get in the way of change, so you can work to get around them in advance.
9. Respond to resistance
Not everyone gets on board, but resistance happens for many reasons. Figure out why people are hesitating. Doing so will reveal barriers you haven’t considered.
10. Measure success
Don’t wait until the end to declare victory. Test for progress along the way. Assessing readiness for change is your biggest predictor of success. If people don’t feel ready to embrace change, they won’t.
11. Sustain success
You made it to the finish line! But the journey isn’t over. Applying new behaviors is often a slow learning process. It’s easy for people to regress to past ways of working, especially under pressure. Keep telling stories of success and reinforce that failures along the way are to be expected. No one is perfect. Reward the right behaviors.
12. Clean up
At some point change becomes “the way we work around here.” It’s no longer a change at all. At that point, clean up anything left over from the project. Remove posters and references to old ways of working. Bring the project to its natural conclusion.
When it comes to rapid transformation, strong leadership is essential. These 12 strategies have proved themselves time and time again, through small changes to major disruptions unearthed by the pandemic. Each element is a critical part of the recipe for change. Like any great recipe handed down through generations, the way it’s executed varies a bit each time, but those central flavors are always part of the mix.