According to Klaus Schwab, economist and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ve entered a technological step change. Every moment, work—what we do and how we do it—fundamentally changes due to factors like automation, algorithms and technological advances. That’s not to mention the changes that come from globalization, consolidation and competition.
In such a volatile environment, it’s no surprise that many leaders wonder how to manage their employees through change effectively. It’s a tough responsibility that is best handled by empowering and inspiring your teams.
Racing to Change
Seasoned CEOs must anticipate changes by looking into the future, scanning the environment and studying patterns. They operate with a future focus and can therefore become frustrated when everyone else in the company doesn’t catch up as quickly.
William Bridges, an expert in organizational transitions, calls this the “marathon effect.” Strong runners are right on the starting line while first-timers gather at the back. It can take nearly an hour for newbies to reach the starting line, creating a strong disconnect between the two groups.
Similarly, C-suite executives leading changes have worked on them long before they’re unveiled. They imagine everyone is at the same starting line, but employees have to work hard to catch up in the real world. Much like the gap between marathoners widens each minute, the chasm between change promoters and change doers grows. This is probably why one study found that change management only has a 50% success rate. The doers often lack understanding, acceptance and buy-in, which can cause change efforts to fail.
But how exactly can leaders successfully share their visions and inspire change in their teams? In my experience, empowering employees—not pushing them—is the key.
Inspiring Others to Carry the Change Flag
As you inevitably roll out changes, you’ll need the backing of your team to achieve success. These four strategies will help you inspire your team to embrace change:
1. Share your perspective. Explain your reasons for change, and then sit back and listen to input from others. By communicating your beliefs and sharing knowledge, you’ll receive more buy-in. When workers feel heard and respected, they are 54% more likely to stay engaged and support new initiatives.
2. Create an outline. Give your team an outline of the future, but let them fill in the details. People commit to what they create. You don’t have to micromanage—unleash and channel your team’s energy, like Steve Jobs. He had faith in his employees, allowing them to innovate and create some of the company’s most successful products.
3. Lean into resistance. Overcoming resistance might seem appealing, but it just drives problems underground. Instead, you should be open to resistance. Occasionally, one-time skeptics can turn into your biggest allies. As George Carlin said, “If you scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
4. Be a beacon. Once employees share a vision and act on it, you should get out of their way. But don’t abandon change efforts altogether; rather, become a light illuminating the path. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, for example, leads by supporting and facilitating his teams instead of acting as the frontman. Hsieh is confident enough to step out of the way while his employees innovate.
Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be painful—or impossible. Help your team coalesce around a shared vision, and then power them through the initial hurdles. Only then can your organization run the race together.