Managing Change & Leading Teams
Change is a constant!
Greek philosopher Heraclitus claimed that “The only constant is change” more than 1500 years ago. In today’s world, these words are even more relevant.
Change is difficult, but for leaders who want to succeed in the modern business environment, the ability to manage and lead through change is a critical skill.
Change management in organisations involves the structured approach and processes for planning, implementing, and sustaining changes in order to achieve desired outcomes. It encompasses activities such as assessing the need for change, communicating the change to stakeholders, and providing the necessary resources and support to facilitate the transition.
Effective change management is crucial for minimising resistance and ensuring successful organisational adaptation to new strategies, technologies, or structures.
Faced with the need for massive change, most managers respond predictably. They revamp the organization’s strategy, then round up the usual set of suspects — people, pay, and processes — shifting around staff, realigning incentives, and rooting out inefficiencies.
They then wait patiently for performance to improve, only to be bitterly disappointed. For some reason, the right things still don’t happen.
Why is change so hard? First of all, most people are reluctant to alter their habits. What worked in the past is good enough; in the absence of a dire threat, employees will keep doing what they’ve always done. And when an organization has had a succession of leaders, resistance to change is even stronger. A legacy of disappointment and distrust creates an environment in which employees automatically condemn the next turnaround champion to failure, assuming that he or she is “just like all the others.” Calls for sacrifice and self-discipline are met with cynicism, skepticism, and knee-jerk resistance.
Most major change initiatives — whether intended to boost quality, improve culture, or reverse a corporate death spiral — generate only lukewarm results. Many fail miserably.
This is so remarkably common that for the most part, organisations begrudgingly accept medicority.
We’ve found that for change to stick, leaders must design and run an effective persuasion campaign. One that begins weeks or months before the actual turnaround plan is set in concrete. Managers must perform significant work up front to ensure that employees will actually listen to tough messages, question old assumptions, and consider new ways of working.
This means taking a series of deliberate but subtle steps to recast employees’ prevailing views and create a new context for action. Such a shaping process must be actively managed during the first few months of a turnaround, when uncertainty is high and setbacks are inevitable. Otherwise, there is little hope for sustained improvement.
Why? Kotter maintains that too many managers don’t realise transformation is a process, not an event. It advances through stages that build on each other. And it takes years. Pressured to accelerate the process, managers skip stages. But shortcuts never work.
Equally troubling, even highly capable managers make critical mistakes — such as declaring victory
too soon. Result? Loss of momentum, reversal of hard-won gains, and devastation of the entire transformation effort.
By understanding the stages of change — and the pitfalls unique to each stage—you boost your chances of a successful transformation. The payoff? Your organisation flexes with tectonic shifts in competitors, markets, and technologies, leaving rivals far behind.
There are still more mistakes that people make, but these eight are the big ones. I realise that in a short article everything is made to sound a bit too simplistic. In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple vision is needed to guide people through a major change, so a vision of the change process can reduce the error rate.
And fewer errors can spell the difference between success and failure.
Source: HBR Change Management
We have found the Knoster Model of Change to be very useful to our clients because it outlines a simple but effective way for an organisation, team, or project to assess potential problem areas and determine next steps.
Developing a formidable team culture and leading effectively will only occur if you have a clear vision, the necessary skills, motivated employees, vital resources, and a solid action plan. In other words, a robust strategy and plan.
The Knoster Model of Change provides a structured approach to change management by breaking it down into three phases. These phases align with the key elements of assessing the need for change, planning and communication, and execution and sustainability in the broader context of change management.
- Current Reality: This phase involves assessing the current state of the organization, identifying the need for change, and understanding the challenges and obstacles that may impede the change process. It relates to the initial step in change management, which is assessing the need for change.
- Preferred Future: In this phase, organizations define their desired future state, set clear goals and objectives for the change initiative, and develop a vision for what the organization should look like after the change. This phase aligns with the planning and communication aspects of change management.
- Practical Steps: The final phase involves developing and implementing practical steps to bridge the gap between the current reality and the preferred future. This includes creating action plans, assigning responsibilities, providing resources and support, and monitoring progress. It corresponds to the execution and sustaining phases of change management.
Vision: Building a shared vision is a critical factor in managing change and leadership. The “why” of the equation, vision is integral to keeping leadership initiatives and teams on track and preventing confusion, especially during periods of rapid change and project implementation. Vision creates the big picture – needed by everyone if they are to have a sense of where change is leading them.
If everyone involved is not aligned to the direction, confusion will inevitably occur. Ask yourself, “Is the intent clear and easy to understand?” Better yet, ask a few team members to explain the “why” back to you. It will quickly become clear whether further work is required. A shared vision for change answers questions like: What will the changes look like and feel like in the future? Why are the desired changes better than the way things are now?
Skills: The means to act in new ways, explore diverse ways of working, negotiating and collaborating. When teams are equipped with the right set of skills for change, anxiety remains low when new challenges arise. Even if a team lacks the right set of skills, having a plan in place to train individuals so they can develop those skills is an effective way to combat unease regarding team performance.
Communication and interpersonal skills are the core of many leadership challenges. Focus here to determine if the team has been set up for success and, if not, where you can most effectively support their growth.
Incentives: Many assume that incentives are monetary, but that’s not always the case. Think of this instead as core motivation. People ask, “What’s in it for me – additional payments, self-esteem, sense of achievement?” For teams to truly succeed (and continue to succeed), all team members must be bought in to the concept, committed to the value it brings to the organisation, and personally motivated by a job well done.
Naturally, rewards and recognition play a role in making employees feel proud of their accomplishments. Real momentum often starts with the internal motivation of a committed core group of employees who see the bigger picture and recognise the win-win outcomes.
Resources: Change cannot occur unless the proper resources (like time and tools) are given to team members to keep them on the track toward success. If a team is short-staffed or lacks the resources needed to succeed, efforts can slowly grind to a halt, resulting in frustration and doubts about the merits of the program or direction.
This aspect demands dedicated resources and plenty of upfront conversations to gain stakeholder buy-in to secure the necessary support. Once you have that organisational influence, keep it by providing regular progress reports to demonstrate the ROI.
Action Plan: A shared plan of action will ensure that teams remain aligned with the original vision and resources are used effectively and efficiently. Execution of a well-designed action plan will produce the type of tangible results needed to answer the ever-present question of ROI.
Any leader or project manager knows it is critical to have a clearly articulated plan with assigned roles and responsibilities tied to deadlines. For those leading a team or project, it’s even more critical to be able to justify the change being requested and overcome the inherent resistance to change by connecting all action steps back to the broader vision.
HBR Change Management, Leading Change – Why Transformation Efforts Fail: John P. Kotter
HBR Change Management, Change Through Persuasion: David A. Garvin and Michael A. Roberto