Navigating change as a leader


Change is hard; you don't have to be a leader to understand this fact of life. Humans are generally creatures of habit. They like the familiar, a routine, coming into the office every day knowing, not necessarily exactly what will happen, but at least the framework in which it will occur. That is why leading during times of organizational change is such a difficult task.

There are hundreds of ways a business can change – from mergers and acquisitions to a restructuring of workflows. Whatever the changes, the leadership that is demonstrated during these turbulent times will often have a great impact on the successes and failures of the transition.

As a leader, it is your job to effectively communicate these changes so that your employees fully understand (and hopefully embrace) the new lay of the land. Your personal power lends you a considerable hand in this task as leaders naturally influence the actions of their subordinates. However, many changes take more than run-of-the-mill leadership skills to enforce. Let's take a look at a few tips for successfully navigating organizational change as an executive.

Navigating leadership during organizational changes can be a difficult process.Navigating leadership during organizational changes can be a difficult process.

Communicate: Effective communication has always been the backbone of good leadership. During a period of transition, the need for clear communication is increased tenfold. From a clear outline of the coming changes and what they mean to keeping an open-door policy for employees to express any complaints or concerns, periods of transition require constant conversations between leadership and their employees. Forbes contributor Jacquelyn Smith noted that clear communication can help assuage fears among the staff. The more proactive leaders are about addressing issues, the better. Make sure to nip any rumors in the bud by being an exceptional communicator at all times.

Stay open-minded: Not every organizational change works. In fact, there will be a fair number of failures. Leaders need to recognize this and remain open-minded. Just because you and your team have worked hard to craft a new approach to old company functions doesn't mean you should sink with the ship. Be open-minded about the successes and failures of this new transition, explained Fast Company contributor Art Markman. Moreover, be prepared to listen to employee feedback. More often than not, your staff sees the true repercussions of a shift in protocol better than you do. Don't be closed off to this kind of constructive criticism. This will not only build relationships founded in trust between you and your employees but could also ultimately help you cut a bad program before it's too late.

Exude positivity: Periods of change are hard for executives, too, but it is important to exude positivity throughout the process. As a leader your attitude about the change will influence the rest of the

"As the old cliche goes, change is the only constant."

office. Pay careful attention to how you talk about change. Do you have an enthusiastic tone? What does your body language say about your feelings? All of these things will be apparent to your employees. Don't set a negative tone or that will pervade the entire process. Your responsibility as a leader is to stand strong, even in the fact of difficulties. This qualification is of the utmost importance during transitional periods.

Make time for training: When things change within a company on a big level, there is going to be an adjustment period. If you are afforded the time (and resources), try and provide your employees with as much training is possible. The more preparation there is before a change takes place, the more confidence there will be about the change itself. Give your staff the opportunity to ask questions, learn new skills and get comfortable in their new roles. This may even include a new round of management training for you as a leader. As with most things in business, the more education you have going into change, the better. Make sure all the relevant parties are prepared for what comes next. 

Be honest: One of the most important things a leader can do during organizational change is stay honest as much as humanly possible. Are things not going as planned? Let your employees know, open the floor for discussions. This will build high-levels of trust between you and your employees. Nothing is worse than a leader who pretends everything is fine as the office burns in the background. Your employees know when something isn't right, so be upfront about any kinks in the process. Who knows? They may have some solutions that you haven't even thought of.

As the old cliche goes, change is the only constant. This is especially true in the world of business. If you are not constantly tweaking processes or coming up with innovative ways to approach old problems, then you probably aren't growing. The question isn't a matter of whether or not you should make changes – it involves asking yourself how you can effectively lead your team through these new policies.