Leading Change – A Management Process

“The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.” – John P. Kotter

“Change is the only constant” – this is true in every aspect of our lives. For businesses, leading change is one of the most significant contributors to their growth and success. In conjunction with managing people, strategies, company goals and maintaining a culture, leading change is another vital component. Leading change is becoming increasingly crucial for companies since the market is constantly in flux, there is a rapid rise in the number of competitors and also companies are expanding globally given the support of technology – the internet, social media and other such virtual communication systems. Without the ability and flexibility to change, it would be difficult for companies even to remain in business. Leading change is a relentless and on-going process and must be woven into the framework of the company to ensure alignment with the other parts of the organizational machinery.

While all companies, it would be safe to say, believe that leading change and managing its implications is crucial, some companies are still unable to do a very good job of it. Those that are paying enough attention to leading change have made and continually strive towards streamlining their processes internally such that they are more agile and efficient when responding to circumstances externally that force changes. Leading change is no longer the responsibility or onus of the top line anymore – to be successful in leading change companies are involving their employees, customers and other ‘partners’ in the process. Employees play a greater role in the decision making process and companies are rewarding them suitably for their enhanced roles. Employee roles are expanding to incorporate initiatives of leading change, innovation and improvements, rather than simply being ‘mute spectators’ being ‘controlled’ by situations and circumstances.

Leading change is one of the prime responsibilities of the top line and those that manage teams. However, the failure to effectively manage and lead change seems to commonplace. This is probably because there is lack of awareness of the mechanisms available for managing and leading change and also that people become ‘comfortable’ in a certain manner of working and begin to believe that change will not affect them too dramatically and hence remain unprepared. They continue to be rooted in the ‘traditional’ methods of running the business. Quick fixes and knee jerk reactions are not reliable or accurate methods of responding and leading change. For any change to be effective, the leaders of the company must be able to manage and lead it – irrespective of whether change causes pain and discomfort. Not all change though is uncomfortable – some positive changes support and add value to the company and the lives of those employed.

In leading change that must be forced, leadership must remain strong and determined and be able to ‘pull’ the company and its employees safely out of it. Downsizing for example can be extremely chaotic and frustrating and it is such tough situations that leading becomes so crucial. As discussed previously, employees are constantly ‘watching and emulating’ whatever the senior leadership does. When the company is faced with crisis situations, employees are even keener to see how the leadership will fare and whether they would have the capability, skill and necessary knowledge to help the company tide over the problem and whether their competence in leading change truly exists. If these perceptions are positive, employees do lend support in the initiatives to ensure their success.

Let us focus on the role of the top line in leading change. With change being an inextricable part of life and definitely business, the leaders of the company must have the capability of dealing with and leading change. Employees and other partners of the business ‘expect’ that the leaders of the company would be adept in all the aspects of business and even during ‘tough times’ they would prudently lead the company. Leaders are expected to plan ahead, effectively implement plans, take calculated risks, be confident in the face of troubles and resilient enough to make balanced decisions and be able to lucidly communicate the progress to all – be masters of managing and leading change.

Change, even though positive, does cause some discomfort and doubts. In leading change, the people responsible must ensure that their behaviour and demeanour will reflect the greater good. Employees should be able to see that their leaders are committed to their welfare and also amply exhibit support and care towards them. When employees can trust their leaders, leading change and formulating new strategies will not remain an uphill task. The proper handling and managing of situations, especially the tough ones, will ensure a relaxed work environment and a motivated work force – crucial to long term success and also enable survival in times of crisis. Managing and leading change in such a balanced environment becomes a lot easier and smooth.

If a company’s leadership is known for poor judgement, lack of care and respect for employees and are overall characterized by poor management, leading change of any sort would be near impossible. There will be no support from employees and any ‘disturbances’ will be met with resistance. Such a company will not last long and will sooner than later buckle under the weight of incompetence, friction and the inability to handle and lead change. It is crucial to the success of a company to have at its helm, leadership that is effective and competent and one that is respected by the employees. Change is inevitable – it is best to change these incompetent leaders and replace them with effective ones, now.

Leading change is not a one-off or on the spot activity. Every organization is aware that changes are constantly happening and therefore must not wait to do the groundwork for any change that may occur in the near or distant future. Every organization must be ‘change ready. This is what effectively leading change is about. Competent leadership will not only be prepared to face challenges brought about by change, but will also build resilience, tenacity and competence of the employees to face any kind of change. Employees who have been prepared for change are better placed to accept and cope with it when it does take place.  In leading change or a change mind-set, it is crucial that the leadership be able to establish ground rules, credibility, confidence and dependability in order for employees to trust that decisions will be for the best and that their opinions will be treated with importance and incorporated where possible.

Before attempting to lead change and expecting employees to accept organizational change, each person in the company must be ready and willing to make some changes in themselves and these changes must first be initiated by the leadership. Expecting employees to change, simply because one high impact training program was conducted, is a futile endeavour. People have been used to performing and functioning in a particular manner and to expect that they would be able to alter their conduct overnight and not express their concerns or voice their opinions is not very becoming of leadership. Employees must be treated with respect and their point of view valued if a company expects and hopes for long term success.

Given the traditional mind-block associated with change, the first reaction to it is always one of resistance. However, the new age leaders in making attempts towards leading change seek to break this mind-set of resistance. The endeavour is helping people to understand why the change must occur, what benefits it would bring and also be able to answer the age old question of ‘what’s in it for me’? When leaders can amply display that change will be good for all, leading change will cease to be a challenge. Organizational change is necessary and therefore it is the responsibility of each member of a company and more so of the leaders to ensure that change is not a scary word and instead of avoidance it must be accepted and embraced.

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