Change has taken on a new look in today’s business environment, says change expert Judd Hoekstra.
“Organisations are still launching large, strategic change initiatives aimed at moving the business forward and helping the business grow—but what’s new in this space is the need to build agility and change-readiness into the fabric of the organisation,” says Hoekstra.
He explains that this approach requires a willingness from leaders to jump in before they have all the answers.
“In the past, leaders experienced change as something to figure out. They would aim for an outcome that was as close to 100% correct as possible. Now things change so rapidly that the goal is to move fast, get it directionally correct, learn quickly what’s working and not working, and make adjustments along the way. It requires an individual mindset of experimentation, adjustment, and refinement.
“This requires today’s leaders to do something we’ve never done before: develop a level of comfort with ambiguity and a readiness to move forward with change initiatives that are less than perfect. We must recognise that as soon as we figure something out, the world may change and we may need to learn and quickly adjust course.
“In Blanchard’s SLII® model, this means individually moving from being an Enthusiastic Beginner to a Disillusioned Learner to a Capable, but Cautious, Contributor and finally a Self-Reliant Achiever—and then back to the start again as conditions change.
“The ability to go back and forth between learning and mastery as rapidly as possible is what organisations are looking for today.”
Becoming comfortable operating in the unknown
“I think Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, explores this idea best. She encourages readers to develop a growth mindset. It’s centered on the idea that everyone is a work in progress—and the changes we're initiating are also works in progress. It's about replacing the question ‘Will it work or not?’ with ‘What parts of it will work, what parts of it won't, and what can we learn and improve on along the way?’
“As leaders, we need to become comfortable with adjusting course; to recognise that we might start out with some zigzags, but by the end we’ll be a little tighter to the line than when we started. It’s about knowing that there will be imperfections and that we will learn from those imperfections and adjust our course.”
Being willing to get started with an imperfect solution
Leaders must be willing to start with an imperfect solution, says Hoekstra. He shares his recent experience talking about an organisational change with a colleague.
“My colleague asked me, ‘Are we waiting to have the Audi or are we okay to get started with a skateboard?’
“‘If we wait to have the Audi, it’s going to take us a long time to get ready to roll that out of the showroom floor. If we’re willing right now to be transported on a skateboard, we can do that. It’s not going to go as fast and we’re not going to necessarily be able to go the same way we would go if we were driving an Audi, but it might be better to go on the skateboard now than to wait for the Audi a year or two from now.’
“I thought that was a great metaphor to describe the choice many of us are facing these days.”
Another aspect of successful change is moving away from a small-group, top-down approach and embracing a high-involvement model.
“Successful change requires high involvement from everyone who will be impacted by the change,” says Hoekstra.
“It’s about leaders asking team members ‘What do you think is working?’ and ‘What do you think is getting in the way right now?’
“Not only do we learn things from outside our own personal experience, we also begin to build a consensus for moving forward with the change. People get an early look at our perspective and rationale while they're contributing their own thoughts and experiences.
“The adage ‘those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan' is true. When people have the opportunity to see the problem and participate in the solution, they're more likely to advocate for the change. But when a leader launches a solution without involving others in the process, people wonder ‘Why the heck are we making these changes?’”
In the Information Concerns stage, people ask questions to get information about the change.
In the Personal Concerns stage, people need to know how the change will play out for them and impact them personally.
People with Implementation Concerns want to understand who is involved in the planning, if the change will be tested, how to find information and resources, and whether the organisation’s infrastructure will support the change.
Impact Concerns arise after the change has gone live. People at this stage want proof the change is making things better, and they need opportunities to learn from others’ successes.
When people have Refinement Concerns, they are focused on both results and continuous improvement. They want to be entrusted with the refinement process and they want to lead the change going forward.
“Curiosity, trust, and empathy are at the top of the list for leaders as they address the stages of concern people go through when experiencing change,” says Hoekstra. “When leaders surface and address concerns through high-involvement change, those concerns are minimised or resolved. If this doesn’t happen, the concerns can become roadblocks and cause the change process to stall.
“Curiosity helps leaders uncover what people's concerns are. If we don't have empathy for what people are going through, we are going to have a tough time leading them through change. They won't trust us.
“We have to be able to ask questions effectively and listen to people’s answers. We also must be able to prioritise. These are behaviours that can be learned. They apply to leading people in general and they are even more important when leading change.
“In any organisation, a lot of people have never been invited on the field to participate in change. They've been spectators who have experienced change done to them, not with them. We want people to be active players in the game of change. We want them on the field contributing, adding value, and sharing ideas.
“In the Blanchard approach, we ask leaders to invite the people impacted by the change to be a much more active part of the team that is moving it forward. It’s a proven recipe for success that will greatly improve the chances of achieving the desired outcome from the change.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.