Published: October 3, 2008
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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The One Thing That Separates Successful Change Leaders from the Rest of the Pack

Change management and organizational transformation involve, at their core, human beings -- lots of human beings, who must fully align with your vision in order to transform the business. You and your team can't do it on your own. You need everyone.

My years of experience as an organizational change consultant have taught me a great deal about what people want and need during times of change. The one thing that separates successful change leaders from the rest of the pack is that they get it, too, and they act on that understanding by providing all eight of these change essentials to the many people involved in the change and impacted by it:

1. Team WorkingClear communication, always: it is far superior to communicate that which is uncertain or still changing rather than waiting until all your ducks are in a row. When you're not communicating, you're communicating, so choose to communicate actively and strategically.

2. Straight talk: people want you to tell them the truth about problems occurring with the change. They don't want you to put lipstick on a pig and tell them how beautiful it is.

3. Two-way communication: elicit input and feedback from employees, customers, and partners. Listen carefully, respond to the problems, and work with them to resolve the problems. If the only employee concerns addressed regard peripheral issues, with the core issues being reserved for "experts," people will not fully embrace the change.

4. Support: this can include training and education, FAQ's, coaching and encouragement, and is particularly important if the learning curve is steep. This applies not only to any technical or business training but also to changes in leadership style, team management skills, vendor management skills, change management skills, conflict resolution skills, and other elements needed to make the change successful.

5. Reasonably clear expectations and measures of success: contrary to popular belief, most people really can handle expectations that are not 100% clear. However, they do need to know 80% of what is expected of them during and after the change, and how their success will be measured.

6. Context: also contrary to popular belief, most people really do want to understand how they fit into the big picture of the change, and how they impact the business. This is true to the most junior levels in the organization.

7. Continuous progress toward aligning internal systems: employees often complain that existing organizational design does not support what is expected of them after implementation. For example, members of a team may own steps 1, 4, 7, and 9 of a new process, but be held responsible for the end result. Thoughtful integration of business processes, compensation systems, and organizational capabilities addresses these inconsistencies.

8. Leadership at all levels: while many employees understand the need to work with outside experts during the course of a significant change, consultants are no substitute for effective leadership inside the organization. One message coming consistently from the top and the middle means a whole lot more than any message coming from an outsider, and good consultants know how to develop, not usurp, leadership of an organization.

Best practices in organizational change management require attention to both objective and subjective human elements. Effective change leaders pay attention to the myriad details being shoved in their faces today, but also anticipate what is coming next. By employing all eight of the change essentials, successful leaders are better able to anticipate and plan for a successful business transformation.



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