In this series we’ll be exploring what it takes to be a leader of change: the skills and competencies that you need in your toolbox; the big, and little, things you can do as a leader to drive, implement and deliver change. And starting here, I’ll be sharing my top tips on preparing yourself as a change leader.
This is exciting, the first of our new blog series on Leading Change, and my very first blog with Afiniti. Firstly, a little bit about me and my experience of leading change.
Although I’m relatively new to consultancy, I’m most definitely not green when it comes to business change. I have lots of real life experience in leading change and being part of teams trying to bring about change. I’ve personally experienced change of all shapes and sizes, from small projects like rolling out an upgrade, system or process, to significant change to ways of working on a global scale or strategic transformation impacting the whole of an organisation. This real-world experience of both leading and experiencing change has given me genuine empathy for people in these situations (leadership as well as workforce), and a real passion for doing what I can to help them through it – after all, change happens one person at a time!
I recently went through a very challenging (and life impacting) change. It really made me think about how I was as a leader, trying to lead a team through change in a caring and real way, whilst at the same time delivering what the organisation expected of me. It was not easy. I have reflected a lot about what I learned about leading change, what I learned about myself and what lessons I took away.
Here are my top tips for preparing yourself as a change leader:
Always consider the scale and impact of change when planning
It sounds obvious, but it makes sense that a larger/wider/deeper change – taking place on an enterprise level, is likely to elicit much stronger feelings and in turn potentially cause more resistance than a small one-team-only system upgrade. But sometimes the ‘obvious’ stuff is the stuff which gets missed – what I’ve seen happen on numerous occasions is that the same change framework be applied, in the same kind of way, and at the same depth regardless of the complexity or size of the change.
Get yourself prepared…first
“Ask yourself some important questions…”
One major piece of advice I was given which helped me significantly was ‘put your oxygen mask on first’. This really resonated for me because I realised I could not help others go through a large change if I wasn’t ready and prepared myself. Your closest colleagues, leadership teams and audiences pick up on everything you say and everything you do, you are their role model and guide. Whether they need to see you using/supporting the new system, using the new process or standing up front to talk about the team, everyone around you is interpreting your every word and action. kind of scary isn’t it? But it’s also human nature.
Ask yourself some important questions: how ready are you for the change, how comfortable are you with the change, how prepared are you to make the change and talk about it? If your answer to any of these suggests that you’re not ready then you need to work through a plan to get yourself there. There are many ways to prepare – ask for some coaching from an experienced change leader, start getting your head around tools and approaches, and practice your conversations before you start having them.
Be available and be seen
This is not so difficult in certain situations, but when involved in a large change project as a leader, sponsor or manager you tend to be squirrelled away in a room somewhere planning timelines, budgets, deliverables and managing the overall change and key stakeholders. What people want to see is you, what people want to hear is you, you have a key role in really articulating what this change means for people in an honest, empathetic and clear way.
Create a safe and open space
Create a safe and open place where you can get the support you need to talk things through, this may be in your project team or your leadership team. It may be in a totally different environment with a coach or mentor. We so often focus on deliverables, going from one thing to another, and we forget to create this safe environment and give ourselves and our teams the headspace needed during times of big change.
Don’t forget about your own needs
Balancing the demands of an organisation, a large team and a big change with having any time for even a remotely normal life is challenging. Often we forget about some of the basics so make sure you build in the things you need to keep your energy up and mental capability high.
When dealing with a large change it’s a time when we need to show up at the top of our game, but we may be feeling like we’re at the bottom! Sleep, eat well, read, walk, run, spend time with your kids or smell the roses – do what you need to maintain that energy and mental capacity.
The next blog in the series will discuss some of the tangible things you can do as a leader to drive change.
If you have any interesting experiences or tips on preparing as a change leader, or if you have any questions on any of the content in this blog then do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.