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How to Become a Successful Change Leader in 8 Steps

How to Become a Successful Change Leader in 8 Steps

Humans are hard-wired to avoid change, but you’re never going to achieve success by standing still! 

In today’s fast-paced business landscape, the difference between failure and success often lies in an organization’s willingness to change. If you fail to adapt to meet the customer’s demands and market trends, then your business will struggle to survive. 

Change can be daunting, but as a business leader it’s your responsibility to guide your team through this process. Strong leadership can mean the difference between successfully implementing long-term change, and remaining stagnant. 

To help you become a driving force for change, we’ve created an 8 step leadership plan. By following these simple steps, you can guide your team through even the most challenging of transitions, with minimal stress and disruption. 

1. Identity tangible goals 

Every business needs to adapt in order to survive, but not all change is beneficial – or even meaningful! It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that just because you’re adjusting your business processes, introducing new technologies, or making other changes, you’re innovating. 

If there’s no clear end-goal and no measurable results, then this kind of aimless, perpetual change is a surefire way to demoralize your workforce. When their workplace is constantly changing but achieving nothing tangible, your team will start to view change as a pointless endeavour. This attitude will completely undermine your current project, and set it on the road to failure. 

A solid business plan can help you avoid this kind of aimless change. When creating your plan, it’s vital to identify measurable, tangible goals. 

When you have a clearly-defined end-point, your workforce can see how each small change is bringing the business closer to that goal. It’ll also be clear when the change management project has come to fruition, and your team can congratulate themselves on a job well done. 

2. Imagine the worst case scenario 

A clear plan can set your project up for success. However, there’s always a chance that you’ll encounter problems and unforeseen circumstances along the way. 

Regardless of the challenges you encounter, as a leader it’s your responsibility to maintain control over the situation, and provide clear guidance to all team members. 

While it’s impossible to foresee every eventuality, it helps to consider the various scenarios that are likely to arise – particularly the worst case scenario! During the planning phase, it’s a good idea to consider all the different issues, conflicts, and other challenges that you may encounter. You can then explore how you might resolve these problems.

This mental exercise can put you in a strong position to navigate any issues that do occur during the change implementation process. 

3. Have the confidence to discard your plan 

A detailed, well-researched plan is essential for starting your project on the right track, but circumstances can change. For example, a sudden shift in the market may mean that your original goal is no longer as desirable as it once was. 

There’s also a human aspect to any change management project. As a leader, it’s your job to keep your staff engaged and enthusiastic about the change. 

During implementation, it’s smart to keep in close contact with your staff, including requesting their feedback and suggestions. Their input may reveal that an alternative implementation would be better accepted amongst your workforce. 

The path to successful innovation is rarely set in stone. As a change leader, you should be confident enough to adjust your plan, if the alternative promises to deliver better results. This may seem like admitting defeat, or returning to square one. However, pushing forward with a plan that’s no longer right for your business, rarely returns the best results. 

4. Share your goals with the wider workforce 

Even positive change has the potential to disrupt your business, and often results in a short-term drop in productivity. Here, clear communication is crucial for minimizing the negative short-term impact of change implementation. 

During the planning phase, you should have identified clear, measurable goals. It’s important to ensure your workforce are aware of these goals, by placing them at the heart of all your communications. This helps your team appreciate why the change needs to occur, even if it causes short-term disruption. 

When your workforce are aware of the promised results, they’re more likely to support the planned change. Getting your workforce onboard and enthusiastic about the process, is essential for driving successful change. 

By communicating these goals to your employees, you can also ensure that everyone is working towards the same end-point. This can help you avoid the misunderstandings and confusion that can derail even the best-laid plans. 

5. Involve your team every step of the way 

In all your communications, you should aim to be transparent and thorough. It may also help to walk your team through your decision-making process, so they understand the logic behind the proposed change management plan. 

These discussions are also a great opportunity to ask your team for their input. This will encourage your staff to feel a degree of ownership over the change, which can be a powerful factor working in your project’s favor.

We also recommend keeping in close contact with your employees throughout this period of transition. Over time, employee interest and motivation may start to wane. By continuously inviting your team to offer their feedback and suggestions, you can help maintain a buzz around your project. 

It also helps to keep your employees up-to-date on how your project is progressing. In particular, we recommend celebrating every milestone. This might be “low hanging fruit,” or major goals that you achieve at the six and twelve month marks. 

By communicating these victories, you can continuously reinforce the fact that your project is on track, and keep staff morale sky high. 

6. Identify and activate you change advocates 

As a leader, you’re instrumental for driving change. However, it’s practically impossible for any one person to implement meaningful organization-wide change. 

A big part of successful leadership is identifying individuals who can become your change advocates. These people are vital for encouraging other employees to get onboard with the change. These advocates can also help maintain employee morale throughout the period of transition. 

By identifying and activating your change advocates early, you can get maximum value from these key players. Wherever possible, it’s a good idea to involve your advocates in the planning process, as this will boost their feeling of ownership and commitment to the change. 

Your advocates can also help with the day-to-day practicalities of implementing meaningful change. As a leader, chances are you already have a jam-packed schedule. By delegating tasks to your enthusiastic change advocates, you can free up more time for the activities that actually require your leadership, including decision-making. 

Since you took the time to ensure your advocates felt a sense of ownership over the project, you can be confident that they’ll take their assigned tasks seriously. However, ultimately you’re still responsible for driving the change, so it’s important that you’re on-hand to answer any questions and provide guidance where required. 

7. Identity potential change saboteurs 

In an ideal world, your change advocates will have no problems motivating your entire workforce. In reality, they’ll likely encounter at least a few employees who are resistant to change. 

As a leader, it’s your job to identify these potential saboteurs and prioritize getting them onboard with your project. Here, it may help to involve them in the planning process, for example requesting their feedback. This will encourage these employees to feel a sense of ownership over the change, and a responsibility to ensure your project is a success.

After creating this initial spark of engagement, it’s important to nurture it throughout the transition period. This may involve periodically requesting the employee’s input and feedback, or tasking your change advocates with keeping a close eye on these change skeptics. 

8. Manage your expectations 

Planning is an essential part of any change management project. However, if you have unrealistic targets then you may be setting yourself up for failure. 

If your expectations are too high, then you risk compromises and low-quality work as your staff rush to meet deadlines. This sloppy approach will result in ineffective change. 

Alternatively, unrealistic targets may result in missed deadlines. This can have a negative affect on employee morale, and even your loyal change advocates may start to question your leadership. A successful leader should motivate their workforce – but also manage expectations. 

Meaningful change is almost always disruptive. This means it’s important to prepare for a short-term negative impact on your team’s performance and productivity. Here, it helps to set realistic expectations about what your team can deliver during the transition period. 

This can be a tricky balancing act. If you set expectations too high, then you risk demoralising your team when they inevitably fall short of their target. However, if you’re too lenient then your team may struggle to remain motivated. 

The key is to push your team to continue achieving good results during the turbulent transition period, without putting them under so much pressure that they begin to view the change as a disruptive force. This can be incredibly difficult to get right, so you may need to adjust your approach throughout the change management process.