With ongoing technological advancements, flat economic growth and business models being disrupted regularly, it is clear that transition isn’t going to go away. Leadership teams need to embrace and manage rapid change – both for themselves and for the people they lead – reducing the fear that change erupts into an organisation.
Leaders must become comfortable with transition.
Through our learnings, we have identified a few key practices that have proved to be successful when leading teams through transition.
Two common requirements for excellence in leadership when companies are experiencing change:
- The first involves ensuring that leadership teams are clear on their current mandate and that they are open to reviewing this regularly.
- The second involves leadership teams connecting with each other on a regular basis about the change process and what appears to be emerging in the business. What we often see is teams carrying on in the same fashion as before, which doesn’t serve them or the system.
The old way of doing business involved setting a 3 year strategic goal or plan – this is seldom relevant in today’s business landscape. In fact, planning 12 months in advance is probably as accurate as one can try to be and, even within this strategic plan, it is still important to check in regularly to look at what is changing and what is emerging.
We also know that each transition has two components. The first is the business component, and the other involves people. Both need equal attention; leaders cannot risk only accomplishing the business component at the mercy of the people component, or vice versa.
This places a new premium on the call to leadership and on how leaders should set about managing their teams through change.
In the past we would talk about how everything rested on effective leadership, assuming that those who were appointed as leaders would have an innate understanding of what was needed to transition. Now what we’re saying is leaders have a responsibility to learn to lead through transition – which means learning to set the direction and also manage this direction carefully in the quest for success.
What tends to set successful leadership teams apart is their ability to:
- Be aligned behind a common vision; and
- Have clarity on what actions are needed in the business in order to move closer to that vision and
be able to communicate this vision effectively while motivating their people to achieve it.
This is no easy task, especially in cases where leaders must familiarise themselves with a new horizon repeatedly.
Lack of information is anxiety-inducing and, if leaders don’t communicate regularly, their team may collectively make up their own version of the facts potentially leading to a lack of trust, insecurity and misalignment in the company culture.
There’s no substitute for consistent, accurate and honest communication from leaders who are secure in themselves and the direction they are moving the organisation. This may mean acknowledging what the leaders don’t know. As long as there is a sense of grounded confidence from the leadership team, communication is preferable to silence.
Setting the path
Last, but by no means least: leaders need to be absolutely invested in the outcome of a transition. In some cases of organisational transition, the final outcome may not be fully clear but leaders can be clear about what they are envisioning and their intended path to the best of their current knowledge.
Strong and clear leaders enable and motivate people to get behind the transition, even if there isn’t full clarity on a final outcome.
The leaders of today are having to learn a new skill. While previously leaders were able to learn from the past by doing retrospectives, today they also need to sense what the future requires. They need to sense the system all the time, in real time.
Leadership through change requires much of a leader. Along the way, leaders should celebrate small victories and have constant conversations when they feel intuitively that something isn’t right. They should make it an absolute imperative to schedule collective, structured sessions with their senior team to discuss the process and at the same time, allow sufficient room for conversation to keep the team as aligned and galvanised as possible.
Lockstep’s Managing Director, Anne Hartslief, has direct experience working with executive teams undergoing transition. Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to schedule a conversation.