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Change is difficult, right? While the evidence suggests that failure rates are well below the often-cited 70% figure, there are still many reasons why leading change can be a painful experience.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be, and given the ubiquitous nature of change, the ability to implement it efficiently is a matter of survival.
Why do many leaders find leading change difficult?
There are a number of reasons, in our experience and from research, that many successful business leaders find leading change difficult. These include:
- People change as individuals but ‘managed’ change needs to work to a collective plan. Effective change leadership needs to reconcile this challenge.
- There are many myths about change and many of them are self-fulfilling. No, we are not hard-wired to resist change, and change is not like dying. We don’t like it when it’s ‘done to us’ or done badly.
- There is no single ‘best practice’ model to follow in leading and managing change yet we are still attracted to linear, process-driven models (like Kotter, Prosci etc). That doesn’t mean they have no value, but we must recognise their limitations.
- Leading change is often complex, even when the content of the change (e.g. processes, technology) isn’t, and organisations that are stuck in traditional modes of leadership find that inherently difficult.
- Change is too often treated of as rational (implicitly or explicitly), underplaying the role of emotions, values, culture, power.
- Leadership often view resistance as a bad thing, and resistors as unhelpful.
- People implementing change often believe that the programme happening now is what matters, but it’s heavily influenced by a social and cultural history.
As the title says, we need to lead change differently. This means taking a more human approach, while at the same time being more rigorous and evidence-based.
What does effective change leadership look like?
Here some of our thoughts on what it means to lead change differently, taking a more human approach:
- Recognising that everyone’s response to change is both individual and dynamic
- Being critical and seeking evidence-based approaches, while remaining open to experimentation
- Taking an iterative (agile approach) approach and become more comfortable with complexity
- Working with emotions, values, beliefs… ..the hard stuff!
- Learning to value “negative” reactions to change as a source of feedback
- Engaging in dialogue rather than seeing engagement as “push” communications
- Placing change in its cultural and historical context, and helping people to make sense of it
- Focusing first on bringing people with you – actively – and building confidence to see it through
- Seeking opportunities for co-creation without forcing people to participate
Finally, we’re not saying that leading change is easy. Not by a long shot. But with the right approach, and skills, it need not be as painful or scary (to the leaders) as it often is. But it does mean looking hard at your organisation’s change leadership capability and being prepared to start by changing your self.