To change and shift an organization’s culture from “what was and is, to what can be,” may be one of the most challenging issues facing any new leader.
While new leadership can be exciting and promises positive opportunities, change can also be threatening. Therefore, making change should always be approached as a process over time, and not as an abrupt event. It’s unfortunate that many good leaders who could be great leaders, sometimes miss this important point. Some leaders also miss another important point — in leadership as in life, there is seldom a second chance to make a first impression — making a positive impression at the outset can mean the difference between success and failure, both for new leadership and for the ability to bring about change.
The term “organization” derives from such words as “organic, organism, organ and organize,” reinforcing the belief that organizations are “living parts, systems or bodies of people connected by a common purpose.” If we accept this description, it is, therefore, critically important that new leaders recognize and understand that a group or organization is dynamic, and that how well they react, respond or adapt to change can often depend on three factors — preparation, acceptance and capacity.
While the following tips for success are not rocket science and are part of a wider leadership strategy, I find them helpful to successfully leading and managing change in a variety of organizational settings. They are what I consider “best practices” and I refer to them as:
“The Four C’s of Positive Change Management”
As a new leader, starting off on the right foot is “a make or break” proposition. To avoid a difficult beginning, first check your assumptions about the people and the organization you are about to lead. Take the time and make the effort in the beginning to research, learn and understand the organization’s culture and its members. Consult with employees, partners and stakeholders to gain valuable insights and knowledge about internal and external relationships. Good consultation means carefully listening to and observing others, with the goal of creating and maintaining an atmosphere of trust. Learn about what matters most to the people, partners and stakeholders who work for and with the organization. Remember that before making changes of any kind, conducting meaningful consultation will demonstrate your respect for the views and opinions of others, your willingness to seek input, and your commitment to the future well-being and resilience of the organization and the people in it.
Make regular inclusive communication a priority, especially when contemplating change. Ensure that everyone in the organization has the right information, at the right time and in the right place. Leaders fail when they fail to adequately communicate. Information is power but it also empowers. When communicating, be authentic, consistent and clear and when sharing information, be accurate and timely. Try to “close the communication loop” so that any outstanding issues or questions are resolved or addressed. Interpersonal communication is also critical to effective leadership, whether these skills are used with individuals or in groups. There are a variety of communication tools that can be useful when managing or leading an organization towards change, and it is important to assess which tools will best meet the organization’s needs and goals. Remember, that to promote mutual understanding and knowledge, a leader should also include two-way communication by creating opportunities for people in the organization to have a voice — this is the empowerment side of the information-sharing equation. Feedback can also help to guide an evaluation of how information is received, processed and used by individuals, groups and the organization as a whole.
Successful leadership involves working together and sharing knowledge, skills and resources. The best leaders follow as well as lead, reach out instead of down, and always seek and value ideas and experiences from others. It is important that collaboration is well planned and integrated with other leadership skills because, in my experience, not to collaborate puts leadership, people and the organization at risk. Without collaboration, making change will be a struggle for any leader who does not choose to work together as part of a change management team. Meaningful collaboration will also support the development of a common vision, mission and plan, and will validate the work and skills of others. Collaboration also builds capacity, both in the organization and among individual members and teams.
Cooperation is the application of shared wisdom to achieve goals and set priorities for the future, instilling in members a sense of commitment to the larger group. Willingness to cooperate inside and outside an organization or group illustrates shared leadership, a process of working and acting together for mutual benefit. Studies suggest that creating a cooperative environment also leads to better efficiencies and results, both for individuals and groups, and sets the stage for making positive change. Group or individual resistance to change can be avoided if, at the beginning, a new leader demonstrates a cooperative attitude and models this behaviour at every opportunity.
Based on my experience and practice, if a new leader consistently applies these skills and abilities, the leader and the organization can move forward with confidence.