Change efforts can fail unless they’re coordinated, writes Dr. Rebecca Newton
We need to focus as much on how we drive change as what change we drive. Research we conducted at the London School of Economics suggests that resistance to change stems often from a negative experience of change leadership, rather than resistance to the change itself.
We know that for change to be successful, we as leaders need to communicate and engage with our teams. What’s often missing is how we communicate and engage with each other as change leaders. The reality of organisational life is that multiple, significant changes are happening simultaneously. Effective change leadership requires coordinating efforts and priorities across the organisation.
For example, one client recently asked me for input into three development areas of their large global business: (1) helping with the people side of change on a corporate restructuring; (2) a leadership development initiative; and (3) an organisational culture shift. But running three major change initiatives at one time would simply overwhelm the company’s employees. And just as importantly, each area impacts the other. We realised that instead of looking at these as three separate ventures, we needed to see them as one.
Similarly, I was impressed when another client recently saw the necessary, practical partnership between marketing and HR. Both functions were involved in change efforts – marketing was driving a rebranding exercise, and HR was rethinking the company’s organisational culture. In most companies, these would be treated as separate initiatives, but my client saw the undeniable gains of bringing them together. Branding affects not only external perceptions, but also internal employee relationships with the business — and thereby influences culture. And culture influences an organisation’s ability to deliver on its brand promise.
Knowing that collaboration is necessary, of course, isn’t the same as putting into practice. It takes more than informing and updating other business leaders on our change-initiative developments. To drive collaborative change:
- Before looking forward, look around. Rather than putting all initial energy into planning how the initiative will be successfully achieved, first investigate what other changes are going on across the business and explore what they really mean. We need to go beyond surface understanding of others’ change initiatives and consider how we might be able to work together to unearth potentially overlooked mutual gains.
- Put your hand up to drive collaboration in practice. It’s easy to talk about collaborating across the business, but in reality, change-silos often form because nobody has clear responsibility for bringing the different change leaders of the various initiatives together. Volunteer to host regular “change hubs” where leaders driving change across the business can gather to share updates and identify overlaps, mutual challenges, and collaborative gains.
- Focus on reducing uncertainty and building trust. Certainty is one of the key components of David Rock’s social neuroscience SCARF model for collaborating with others. We are often reluctant to collaborate in practice because we are uncertain about the reality of others’ work. Seek to better understand colleagues’ work; in doing so, you increase your trust in their expertise, and their trust in yours.
- Carve out time for deeper conversations. Out habit and busyness, we often jump quickly from small talk to detailed agenda points in meetings. In doing so, we skip over the conversations that would help us better understand the bigger picture of our colleagues’ work. Start meetings with a couple of open questions to understand colleagues’ broader priorities, current opportunities, and challenges.
- Bring your external consultants together. As an external consultant, I’ve experienced times when the client has encouraged us to work together with other advisers brought in for their different expertise. I’ve also experienced times when I’ve been aware that other consultants are working in different but (at least to my mind) related areas of the business and we have been kept almost intentionally separate from them. Where any external advisers are brought in for projects, there are more gains than losses in bringing them together to share and drive collaboration across the business.
When change leaders across the business collaborate and coordinate, we position ourselves to bring greater clarity, lead more effectively, and drive changes more successfully.
- This article was initially published on Harvard Business Review in 2016 and re-published on the Management with Impact blog with the author’s permission.
- The post gives the views of its author, not the position of the Management with Impact blog or the London School of Economics.