Change: Leading or Impeding?

Change: Leading or Impeding?

April 21, 2022 Good to Know 0

What do hybrid work options and aging have in common? On the surface, not much. One deals with work-related issues; the other with that noise you make when you stand up. They both represent the challenges of change.

If you thrive on change, these past two years have been a thrill ride. If too much change too quickly makes you dizzy, you’re probably reeling in some degree of shock.

When will things get back to normal?

Two key points here. One, never. Two, we’re only talking about a semblance of normal. Change is always happening. Usually, it’s gradual enough to be hardly noticeable, like trees through the seasons or your friends’ kids. We don’t even notice until it’s completed its cycle or gotten a driver’s license. But it’s always happening.

Change is a river in the constant of time. Sometimes it meanders slowly. At the other extreme it’s furiously frothing and foaming as it races along, crashing over rocks and pulling up trees by the roots.

2020. The year we learned white-water rafting.
2021 was supposed to leave the crazy behind. We ceremonially burned our 2020 calendars and looked forward to cruising calmer waters.
2022. We’re still maneuvering as fast as we can.

These past two years may be the greatest conflation of personal and work changes most people have ever experienced. We expect to welcome newborns, send our little ones to school, launch adult children off to lead lives of their own, experience the loss of loved ones, retirements, illnesses, changing relationships, etc. At work we anticipate job challenges, technology, promotions, job losses, new bosses, turnover, etc. But the speed and intensity of recent changes are unprecedented for most of us.

Each and every change in the past two years has been significantly exacerbated by the worldwide pandemic. Our stress levels have shot through the roof, out of the atmosphere and into black holes.

Normal is just a setting on the washing machine, folks.

What’s next? Businesses and individuals have taken various approaches, from hunkering down to madly adjusting on the fly to getting out ahead of the sharp curves.

If you’re still thinking that things will “get back to normal” here’s a summary of data to consider:

  • As of November 2021, an average of 3.9 million workers quit their jobs each month. The “Great Resignation” or “Big Quit” is expected to continue in 2022.
  • Retirements represent a significant percentage of those who have left the work force.
  • 25% of start-ups are being created by the over-55 retirees.
  • The biggest drivers for people switching jobs in 2022 are compensation, flexibility, work-life balance and safety.
  • Common traits of successful businesses during the past two years: flexibility, good communication, social responsibility, resourcefulness, creativity, empathy, ability to pivot.
  • Winning the “War for Talent” (attracting, motivating, and retaining valuable employees) is business’s #1 priority. It is estimated to continue through 2031.

It was time to stop making buggy whips when they invented the automobile. Are you restructuring your buggy whip assembly line, or are you looking into how to wipe rain water off windshields?

The most important skill for today is the ability to change. Not to simply manage change or react to it. That may help you survive, for a while. But to thrive, you need to grab change by the proverbial throat and ride it, inspiring and leading the charge. Damn the torpedoes- full speed ahead!

This is a time for transformational thinking. Adapting your business to changing realities requires ruthlessly reassessing the key components of your business- your business plan, growth opportunities, products or services, customers, branding, talent competitiveness, flexibility, workplace culture and your gut instincts. As you implement changes, you will need to inspire and lead a committed team.

When I conduct programs on Change Leadership, I use an approach that was informally developed with colleagues as we noted key elements that are often overlooked when implementing changes, large or small. When these steps are skipped or minimized, the chances of achieving successful results are significantly decreased.

The key elements are:

  • Why

This is the most important step, and the one most often neglected. The question that must be answered is: why is the change occurring, and why does that matter to me? Your goal is to gain understanding and buy-in. Change is going to require some new thinking, skills, and behaviors. Before you ask someone to make these efforts, they need to know what’s in it for them.

When I worked with bank tellers on developing service and needs-based sales skills, it was the norm for a CEO to kick off the session with a motivational speech that highlighted the benefits to the customers and the bank in increased profitable relationships while touting that old chestnut, “you are the most important people in the bank.” I knew that the tellers were mentally calculating the difference in their paychecks and his and internally rolling their eyes. Tellering was my first job.

Once the CEO left the room, I asked the skeptical class for a show of hands in answer to one question, “How many of you would like to have fewer crabby customers?” Every hand in the room went up. I promised them that if they learned and used these new skills, they would achieve that result.

I got complete buy-in because that was their hot button. It was now worth the effort to unlearn old skills and learn new ones.

Be sure your employees understand the value of change to them personally.

  • What

People need to know what is specifically expected of them. Whether the changes are technical or behavioral or both, clarity is critical. People need clear directions. It’s also important that both sides share the same understanding of the required actions.

  • How

This is typically the role of training. For example, if the new skill requires proficiency in leading video conferencing or handling difficult conversations, training provides the knowledge and skills development to achieve proficiency.

  • Practice

This essential step, always present in sports, music and most professions, is all too often skimmed over in the business world, especially in behavioral skills. Would you like to be operated on by a surgeon who just read the manual, or attend a concert by a musician who’d only had one lesson? Yet people get sent to a training program that lasts anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days and are expected to immediately apply their new skills. “No problem. I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.”

This critical element is coaching. Coaching provides observation, feedback, reinforcement, correction, and practice, all key elements to achieving proficiency.

  • Do It

The Nike moment. When you’ve successfully accomplished the first four steps you are ready to apply the new skills to the job. The key leadership skill now is accountability. Be clear that this is now part of the job, not a desirable option.

Most failed attempts included only steps 2,3 and 5. You can’t just implement change. If you want to thrive in an ever-changing landscape, you need to embrace, lead and inspire change.

As you navigate the rough waters of change, will you capsize, or emerge victorious?