Among the most significant people leadership challenges I observe is how to guide teams through times of substantial change. In particular, I often work with leaders struggling to shift the culture of their team in order to achieve broader change objectives. Commonly these leaders are frustrated by persistently ineffective behaviours that hold their team back from achieving the organisations immediate term objectives, let alone their full potential.
Some of the most common behaviours that stand in the way of successful change include complacency, resistance and lack of ownership. Of course the list of behaviours that undermine success is long and varied but these I more often than not observe to some extent or another.
This was certainly true of one organisation we recently worked with. The leadership team was struggling to shift behaviours that were impacting their ability to keep pace in an ever increasingly competitive landscape. While they had a long and proud history of success, times had changed and they were struggling to remain relevant let alone competitive in their new world.
This organisation was not dissimilar to many others that we work with. The most important things they needed to do to overcome these challenges included:
- Articulate their vision: people didn’t have a clear view of where they were heading and why. Many of the changes being implemented were perceived as being motivated by greed as opposed to being necessary in order to maintain viability of the business. All people knew is they needed to do more with less, they didn’t understand the bigger picture.
- Communicate: not only did people not understand the organisation’s vision, they also struggled to appreciate the role they were expected to play. Many were also frustrated by what they perceived to be a lack of consultation. As a consequence some had little confidence in the quality of decisions being made. It was common for people to be taken by surprise with ‘fully baked’ solutions rolled out to teams who were then expected to implement without question in limited time frames.
- Have empathy: the majority of the leaders in this business adopted a ‘just get on with it’ attitude toward those who expressed concerns. There was little empathy demonstrated for the fears people had in particular about the certainty of their future. This lack of compassion significantly impacted the trust people felt and heightened their tendency to resist change.
Managers in this organisation wanted to hold people accountable. While this is a critical priority in enabling change, in the absence of clarity of direction and expectations, without giving people the opportunity to contribute their thoughts, without having compassion and responding appropriately to concerns raised, accountability is next to impossible to achieve. Yes results matter, and people can reasonably be expected to act in the spirit of cooperation and strive to succeed. However, unless managers build a vision for the future, engage in two-way communication and have empathy they will struggle to shift behaviour and ultimately drive successful change.