How To Lead Well During Times Of Change


From my perspective, the new system was genius.  Instead of our enterprise customers typing in their service orders in an email for call center reps to retype them into our systems (which almost always contained errors), the customers now had an easy interface that would “flow through” to the backend systems.

The new approach was faster, with higher quality, and an added bonus of working on weekends.

Only one problem: the reps (and their union) HATED it.  And they had a point.  What about white glove treatment for high-end customers?  What about relationships?

The union steward was adamant that the change was “just proof” that we cared about the bottom line more than the customer experience.

The truth is both points were valid.  Large Enterprise customers wanted efficiency AND differentiated service from THEIR kind reps, like Kenetra.  It wasn’t either / or.  It wasn’t them or us.  We needed to work together on building a customer-focused adoption strategy that the reps could believe in.

As it turned out, our careful strategy was successful, and our call centers led the Nation in “Flow Through,” the leading indicator that our change efforts worked.

Although I give some tongue-in-cheek credit to my rendition of “The Flow Through Happens Tonight” (to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”).  A bit of fun never hurts in the change game.

And yet, I still thank God this silliness preceded YouTube.

6 Ways To Lead Well During Times Of Change

If you’re faced with a big change, follow these 6 steps to ensure lasting results:

1.  Establish A Clear Vision

Be crystal clear on what you’re looking to accomplish.  Communicate and reinforce your vision through every medium possible.  When you’re sure everyone’s got it, communicate even more.  It’s important to explain the reasons behind the change, as well as to identify the specific behaviors you need from employees in each role.

2.  Be Honest About The Benefits

The notion that ALL employees care about is WIFM (‘what’s in it for me’) is BS. Sure, employees want to know “what’s in it for them”, they equally want to know what’s in it for you and for THEIR customers.

Leaving that part out just leaves them to fill in the blanks and make assumptions (i.e. the next step is to downsize).  They want to know you’re thinking this through with your brain, and not just your pocketbook.

3.  Start Small

Don’t start advocating for a change that’s half-baked or full of flaws.  Test it first with a small group, take their feedback seriously and get it right.  It’s tough to regain credibility.  “Oh yeah, I admit it sucked before, but now it’s better” only leaves the masses wondering why some bozo made a choice to sing praises for an idea, system, or process that was full of problems in the real world.

Even if it looks great on paper, your boss is sold and it worked in the IT war room, field test the change first.  Yes, this takes time.  Go slow to go fast.

In my example above, we worked out the kinks with one team and gave headquarters feedback until I’m sure they were sick of hearing from us (actually, me… never make your team be the bad guy).  Take the risk of making some waves to make it easy for your team.  We were slower out of the gate than most regions.  But no one remembers that part of the story.

4.  Establish Easy-Access Listening Posts

This is perhaps the most important part.  Really listen to what your people are saying.  Most importantly, respond to feedback with solutions – not selling. When you fix something, communicate it back five times, five different ways.

5.  Gather Reluctant Testimony

Lift up as many testimonials as you can.  Get your most excited employees showing how your new idea, system or process changed their world.  Your most influential stories will come from the least likely suspects: the sales guy who never bothered with this crap before; the new rep who’s now running circles around the old timers because she uses the system; the supervisor who got her entire team (including the union steward) doing Harlem Globe Trotter tricks with the system.

6.  Involve The Team In Key Decisions

No one wants stuff done TO them, or even FOR them.  WITH them goes a lot further. What’s working well and how do we leverage it?  What enhancements do we need?  Where should we head next?  All these questions go a long way.

How To Inspire Confidence In The Change

The process above is all about inclusion and building confidence.  There are some key leadership behaviors that you can incorporate at each phase of the process to inspire confidence that the change is good, and to help employees feel safe and competent.

5 CLEAR Leadership Traits That Inspire Confidence:

C – Celebrating – Pay attention to small improvements.  Celebrate milestone successes.  Focus on the behaviors causing the wins.  To build confidence, celebrate small improvements.

L – Listening – You may be tempted to talk; to encourage.  Resist the urge.  Try listening.  Then listen more.  To build confidence, listen from your heart.

E – Empowering – Give them clear parameters on which to make decisions.  Encourage them to try creative approaches.  Provide resources.  To build confidence, let it go.

A – Asking – Great questions make people think.  Nothing inspires confidence like discovering your own answers.  To build confidence, ask provocative questions.

R – Risk Taking – Don’t freak out when things go wrong.  Encourage weird ideas.  Prepare them to present to powerful audiences.  To build confidence, allow graceful failures.

Change efforts require great leadership, and most leaders under-estimate the importance of a clear strategy and deliberate behaviors at every level of the business. Change requires confidence and inclusion, not selling.  Change requires the audacity to inspire, an audacious vision, and the humility to listen carefully and include everyone touched in the process.