The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make When Leading Change

I’ve seen so many leaders completely unprepared to help their teams transition through change.

The biggest mistake they make is forgetting who’s at the end of the change.

I once worked with an Operations senior leader who found himself totally caught off guard by a silent revolution. He couldn’t understand why end users in his department continued to process work their old, manual, inefficient, comfortable way, rather than use the new system. A system that took over two years to configure and cost his department millions of dollars.

He was so concerned with code drops, Steering Committee meetings, and tracking the budget that he completely ignored the people who matter most — the end users. All they got were a few hours of training the week before the system went live. They had zero incentive to change their behaviors and ways of working.

Signs you’re heading for a change smackdown

  1. You view training as synonymous with change leadership. (Just because you train people, doesn’t mean they are ready or willing to adopt and adapt.)
  2. Change is pushed only from the top.
  3. You are overly reliant on email to communicate important information. (Your well-crafted email loaded with important information is sitting in an inbox.)
  4. You try to have all the answers.
  5. You’re blissfully unaware of pockets of resistance. (If you ask the right questions and look in the right places, it’s there.)
  6. You only articulate the benefits of the change but can’t identify what people feel they are losing.
  7. You only involve senior level people in key discussions and decisions.

Empathy and change

The most important skill that will help you avoid a change disaster is empathy.

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When you shift your perspective from your role, your deadlines, your to-dos and look at the change from the perspective of the people impacted, you’ve got a much greater chance of success. You’ll be able to anticipate many obstacles before they grow into big hairballs.

Encourage leaders to be more empathetic with a change:

  • The next time you sense resistance, try to understand what’s below the surface. Are they nervous about losing their job? Are they concerned they don’t have the skills to be successful? Was the last change a disaster?
  • Resist the urge to pooh-pooh what you think isn’t important. To someone else, that new procedure you consider no big deal could result in a completely new way someone performs the job.
  • Demonstrate you understand their point of view. Use language and words that show you understand what they are experiencing or feeling. “I hear your point about the new screens and procedures taking more time at first. It sounds like your biggest concern is meeting the service level agreements. Do I have that right?
  • Document the issues and concerns. Let people know you are capturing their questions and issues. Then follow up. This is a big trust-builder. You don’t have to have all the answers but demonstrate you’ve got their interests in mind.
  • Step outside of your role and put yourself in the shoes of all the people impacted by the change. It may feel like more work to build the conversations and touch points into your plan, but it will save you headaches, time and money on the back end.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults and a change and human resources consultant, having served in diverse internal and external consulting roles for over 16 years. Prior to People Results, Marta was affiliated with Accenture where she held leadership positions in a number of successful large-scale people initiatives. Connect with her on Twitter at Twitter.com/MartaSteele or via email at msteele@people-results.com.

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