In this post, guest blogger Katie Meyers, the Director of Professional Services at Hearsay Systems, will provide a summary of her Summit breakout session, Embracing change as a catalyst for success.
Since being certified in change management, I've been really excited to teach individuals how to successfully navigate organizational change. At Hearsay Summit, I got to do just that. During my session, I worked with a room full of financial services professionals from various roles across industry segments, each facing their own change management challenges.
We discussed both unique and common challenges and strategized how each person in the room could inspire change. Today, I’d like to share some key frameworks and processes for successfully executing change.
Preparing for change
With change comes uncertainty and fear. So what can leaders do to drive engagement and collaboration in the face of uncertainty?
First, define the power dynamics and organizational values present in your company. This step helps you identify power dynamics that exist across your organization. Naming the power dynamics associated with specific roles and individuals will help you gather the right stakeholders to drive change forward. It will also help you understand how the changes you propose are likely to be received.
- Power dynamics refer to the way different people, or groups of people, interact with each other and how their professional roles and relative ‘power’ within those roles impact those interactions. Power dynamics exist in every organization, but talking about them can be uncomfortable because talking about power innately means talking about privilege. Of the five types of power that exist, some are given and are a privilege (reward, legitimate, coercive), and others are earned over time through merit (expert, referent).
- Team Values are the shared norms within your organization. Some are explicit; some are implied. These core values serve as a north star that guides leaders and employees on how to conduct themselves in the workplace, but not every team makes decisions in favor of their values.
Now that you understand how different roles and dynamics will impact your efforts, it’s time to define how you’ll implement change.
A good first step in any plan is to have a framework in place. Kurt Lewin was a German psychologist who, in the early 20th century, pioneered organizational psychology as we know it today. His change management framework is incredibly helpful because it provides a metaphor to guide you through the process: unfreeze, change, re-freeze.
Step 1: Unfreeze
Once you’ve identified an area where you’ve been stuck, brainstorm ways to unfreeze it. Invite members of your team and members of other teams to share new perspectives, and don’t be afraid to challenge existing positions.
As you speak with people across your organization, identify which type of leadership tendencies they embody. Proactive leaders anticipate changes that may be coming and try to influence or mitigate associated risks by taking quick, decisive action. In contrast, reactive leaders tend to be cautious and analytical, frequently responding after an event has taken place. Don’t forget to analyze your own leadership style by thinking about how you responded the last time the going got tough. Did you make a quick decision? Or were you more cautious?
After you think about individual contributors, it’s time to think about how your organization responds to change. Organizational tendencies fall into four categories based on the organization type:
- Static organizations, which tend to experience episodic change, generally move slowly, have clear operational boundaries, and often face bureaucratic challenges.
- Sprawling organizations are large organizations that often experience targeted change—implemented at a local vs. global level—initiated by necessity or specific marketplace opportunities.
- Rapid niche organizations (highly specialized organizations with a very defined customer base) typically implement incremental change, often in the form of product or service adjustments that are made in response to market demand.
- Perpetual motion organizations embrace continuous (ongoing, evolving, and cumulative) change, with a goal of constantly exploring new sectors and imposing minimal operational limits on themselves.
Being familiar with and understanding these definitions will help you navigate the next step.
Step 2: Change
Once you’ve defined your challenge and brainstormed how to implement a solution, it’s time to execute the tasks needed to bring your change to fruition.
Here are some examples, along with tips on how different leadership styles and organizational tendencies may influence your strategy:
- Meeting with key stakeholders in cross-functional roles across your organization. If you have proactive leaders, they’ll want to know all the details sooner rather than later. Consider sending an email memo or presentation for them to review before the meeting.
- Building a presentation that brings clarity to your initiative. If you’re part of a rapid niche organization, make sure to tie your WHY into how this will impact your space in the market.
- Setting meetings with the right people to move change forward. If you have reactive leaders, they may want to see data to support why your change matters.
- Preparing for questions (and having good answers ready). If you’re part of a static organization, it's going to be hard for folks to embrace change. Make sure to have a thorough and well-thought answer to the question, "why now?".
Ultimately, your goal is to get key decision-makers to understand why this change matters to them and, ultimately, embrace it.
Step 3: Re-freeze
With your change in place, it’s time to begin following new processes, working on new initiatives, and putting all agreed-upon outcomes into action. If you make it this far, you’re in good shape—but making sure the changes you worked so hard to put in place drive toward the desired action is the true test. So how do you do that?
I often tell my team to control what they can control—but that doesn’t land well if you don’t know what controls are available to you. To help us out, Harvard economist Robert created a model he calls the ‘levers of control.’
The model explains how to use various tools to encourage new behaviors and limit undesirable behaviors. Positive controls—including belief systems (company values) and interactive controls (safe spaces to explore threats and opportunities) are used to inspire and excite teams. In contrast, limiting controls—including diagnostic control systems (measuring against KPIs) and boundary systems (implementing performance improvement plans)—are used to explicitly state what procedures a team must work within. In most cases, leaders combine positive and limiting controls to drive toward desired outcomes.
Even with all the planning and preparation in the world, nearly every leader will encounter resistance as they attempt to influence change. The best response?
Create an environment of psychological safety by:
- Listening to concerns and helping colleagues uncover the benefits of the change.
- Using formal communication plans to make sure your teams are informed
- Equipping individuals with the skills and support resources needed to be successful
- Asking specific questions about why the change is not desirable and being open to understanding others’ perspectives
When you encounter resistance, don’t take feedback personally. Instead of defaulting to defensiveness or defeat, engage with your team. Thoughtfully examine the power dynamics at play, assess the role your mission and values play in your decision-making, and learn to listen empathetically. Most importantly, be prepared to take responsibility for the changes you’ll be making. Good leaders equip and empower their teams to tackle change head-on and embrace both the uncertainties and benefits that come along with it.