We have often talked about change management from the perspective of a leader helping his or her team/employees through the resistance that is a natural part of change. But what about when you as the leader and your leadership team are the ones giving pushback?
This situation is not uncommon. Just because you are a leader does not make you immune to resisting the uncertainty and messiness that invariably accompanies change. Likewise, just because your leadership team is tasked with championing and carrying out change doesn’t necessarily make them happy about doing so.
Let’s make it personal with the following scenario …
Your company has had sustained success in the marketplace. You have expanded at a steady pace. Your leadership team is strong and cohesive. You regularly meet your business objectives. Things are running like a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately, a monkey wrench has been tossed into the gears. Due to the evolution of technology (or customer expectations, or competitors’ offerings, etc.), your company has to make changes.
Pause for a moment to get the picture. Your company has been doing everything right and STILL has to make changes in order to survive and thrive. The early signs are there: a slow but perceptible decline in order volume, revenue, net-new customers … the KPIs are relentlessly issuing warnings.
You and your leadership team can read the numbers and the other signs, such as customer feedback, perfectly clearly. You have all agreed – verbally – that change is necessary. You’ve even sketched out what some of those changes should be. But there is a palpable sense of inertia in your leadership team meetings. Conversations fall flat. Plans remain unfinished. Other agenda items are eagerly taken up to avoid talking about the one thing that is the most important and also the most difficult.
It’s hard to let go. Especially when you are being compelled to give up something good for an unknown. It is no wonder you and your team are resisting change.
What do you do now? For change to happen, you need to get yourself and your leadership team over the hump. Otherwise, you will never be able to lead change across your organization.
Here are six actions that can help you over the hump:
1. Acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay.
You and your leadership team are being asked to change something that has worked really well for you. Emotional resistance is completely normal. To counter this resistance, the first step is to acknowledge it. Give yourself and your team permission and opportunities to share frustrations, anger, disappointments, and whatever else is contributing to the emotional struggle against change. Denying the emotional component of the equation will inevitably result in further resistance. Put it all on the table.
2. Confront the facts head on.
Having given yourselves permission to be human, you now need to turn to the task at hand. Confront the realities facing your business. Ruthlessly review the data that is dictating the need for change. Simulate or project the future state that change is predicted to bring. Doing so will help get your intellect on board with the need for change, which will then help bring about an emotional shift.
3. Get down to planning.
There’s no way around it: you and your leadership team have to stop kicking the can down the road. Identify specifically what needs to change and how you are going to change it. Plan out the year’s objectives and divide them up into quarterly deliverables. Taking action has a very positive emotional impact: getting moving is hard, but once you are moving it becomes easier to keep going because accomplishing goals is rewarding.
4. Leverage your customer relationships.
Your customers can help generate excitement and energy for change. Have conversations with key customers or conduct surveys on a wider scale. Communicate about what you are in the process of changing and why you are making these changes. Ask for your customers’ feedback and input on a regular basis. Good customers will be glad to help you succeed. What you hear from them can keep your internal motivation high.
5. Celebrate the great job you have done.
The need to make changes when things have been going well can feel like a slap in the face. To counter that, take the time to literally celebrate your successes. Affirm the great job the leadership team has done in guiding the company to its present strong market position. Delineate all the ways your company as a whole has been responsive to customer needs and created a superior customer experience. Shine the spotlight on your outstanding products and services. Recap the excellent KPIs you have seen quarter after quarter and year after year.
6. Build on the past to create the future.
In your celebration, affirm that all the positive things you have done previously are going to serve as the foundation for the next stage of company growth. What you have done in the past is not going away: you are going to build on it. It is because you have done a great job that you are now positioned to move forward. Approaching the future this way can help you and your leadership team see change not as stopping one thing and starting another, but as continuing on a familiar path together.
Together, these six actions will help you and your leadership team overcome the entirely normal emotional hurdles that rise up in response to change – enabling you to lead your company to continued success!