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How CEOs Can Effectively Navigate Through Change

Even the most successful companies have gone through change – from American Airlines to Zappos.

changeIf you are in business long enough, there is pretty much a guarantee you will go through a season of change, if not many. Even the most successful companies have gone through change – from American Airlines to Zappos.

I co-founded TSP with Rick Skaggs, my longtime colleague from Honeywell, in 2002. Our department had been shut down and we were asked to let go of our team of nearly 50 talented engineers. While this change was difficult, it created an opportunity for us to do something we might have never done before. We soon started our own company and rehired many of those same engineers.

Right around our 15-year anniversary last year, we experienced our most significant period of change yet. We were feeling the need to adapt within the market and meet our evolving partner expectations like all industries have at some point. It was time to do a serious audit of our business practices and evaluate what must be done in order to set us on the path to success for the next 15 years.

The situation was a learning process that allowed my executive team and I to grow in our leadership capabilities. For entrepreneurs embarking on a season of change, here are my top three key takeaways to keep in mind:

Develop and communicate a clear vision

Ford CEO Alan Mulally once described leadership as, “having a compelling vision, a comprehensive plan, relentless implementation and talented people working together.” When Mulally was enlisted to turnaround the struggling motor company, one of his key initiatives was to develop and communicate a clear vision.

“Communicating with employees who will play an essential role in executing change is better done sooner than later.”

Developing your vision requires an answer to one question: where do you want to be? The answer may be a little foggy during times of uncertainty, but taking the time to answer it is essential in successfully implementing change. Giving your employees a vision allows them to better comprehend why change is taking place and where the change will take them in their given roles.

Include more people sooner than later

Change is enacted by people – starting in the middle. Communicating with employees who will play an essential role in executing change is better done sooner than later. As a c-suite executive, you may have a say on what change is taking place, but your employees are often the ones who have to implement the change.

At the end of last year, we altered the structure of our leadership team and promoted some directors to vice presidents. I wanted to expand our executive team and create alignment between our teams and our 2018 strategy. The employees who were to play a key role in sharing this news with our internal and external stakeholders were also the ones affected. It was critical we inform these individuals quickly, so that they could help us navigate through this change.

During his time as CEO of GE, Jack Welch led the company through pivotal changes and when asked what made a good manager, he responded, “Above all else, though, good leaders are open. They go up, down, and around their organization to reach people… They’re straight with people.”

Know when it is time to move forward

As a people-first company, being cognizant of the feelings of those impacted was a priority. We took the time to sit down with these individuals and share the news in a way that they would hopefully understand. However, there comes a moment when you have to be completely honest and transparent with everyone and resolve to move on.

Two years after CEO Tony Hsieh announced Zappos would do away with traditional manager roles, it was clear the changes weren’t occurring quick enough and in 2015, he asked employees to get on board or move on. While this choice resulted in nearly 18 percent of his employees leaving, Hsieh not only stands by this decision, but he actually says he should have done it sooner.

In the end, change is inevitable. Compassion always comes first, but it is important to not dwell in the moment too long. Like any life decision – whether personal or professional – you have to make the effort to move forward, not back.


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