Leading at the Pace of Rapid Change

According to Gallup, more than 70% of all organizational change efforts fail. But it’s not because of the change itself – it’s due to poor change leadership.

This is bad news… and good news at the same time.

The bad news is that’s awful performance – worse than a grade F! But the good news is that despite an unknown future, leaders possess the efficacy to lead change to their desired destination if they manage the process effectively.

The big question is: how?

Humans have a complicated relationship with change. By nature, our default is to resist, especially at the beginning when we don’t fully understand the change. We want change to happen for us, not to us. Change represents a lack of control or autonomy. Yet, we desire improvement as well.

Most of us also realize the pace of change will only increase in our lifetimes. It’s a reality we’ll all have to accept.

For leaders navigating the change process, these four elements provide the key to successful adoption.

Define the Change

In most scenarios, initiative is a positive, commendable trait. But in instances of change, surging ahead without grasping the details of what exactly is changing, the desired outcome of the change and who will be impacted can cause major headaches in the process.

Initiating change without understanding the full scope can lead to delays, confusion and damaged trust later. The same thing can be said for a new change that benefits one group while inadvertently creating issues for another.

Assess the Readiness for Change

“Ready, get set, go!” That’s what you can expect to hear before the start of a track race. Without the “ready,” the whole event would turn chaotic. This is what happens to the change process when readiness gets overlooked.

Readiness has two key components: willingness and ability.

If the team has low willingness for a change, they’ll resist, especially at the beginning. You’ll need to provide extra communication and support along the way. If the team is willing but has low ability, you’ll need to develop them or bring in additional resources to achieve success.

Communicate the Change with Clarity & Empathy

Like most leadership situations, the success or failure of most change is determined by the communication.

When talking about change, we need to lay it out clearly: what’s changing, why it’s happening, who will be impacted and how the change will unfold. Most change leaders stop here, but the best communicate with empathy as well. They acknowledge the challenges, extra work and discomfort. They communicate how the team will benefit from the change, even if it’s challenging.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to sugarcoat the difficult aspects you know are coming. This is where trust in the leader during change is often won or lost.

Reinforce the Change

Unfortunately, most change leaders treat implementation as the finish line of change, when actually it’s the starting line. No change is complete until it reaches full adoption.

Almost all change needs ongoing support to take root. Follow-up questions, reassurance, help when problems pop up and coaching—these are the nutrients that feed change.

Reinforcing change also needs shared ownership. When you delegate parts of the implementation process, you make it everybody’s project, not just yours. You commission your team into fellow champions of change, not just adherents.

Remember the 70% failure rate for change? This doesn’t have to apply to you! Implementing change successfully is a process, not just a moment. When you approach change with a thoughtful plan and support the team along the way, the change you lead won’t just receive a passing grade, it will usher in a better, brighter future.