Movers and shakers – they’re usually treated as one and the same: each is a ‘powerful person who initiates events and influences people’. But if you’re involved in leading change in your organisation, wouldn’t you prefer to be moving people, winning them over, rather than shaking them – making them feel uncomfortable, or even resentful?
There are umpteen models for leading change effectively in organisations. To save you the effort of trawling through them all, we take a brief look at some widely known and useful approaches. We then summarise some key aspects of these in a handy summary, freeing you up to get on with your important work as champion of change.
Kotter’s 8-Step Process
Dr John P Kotter’s ‘8-Step Process for Leading Change’ has long been lauded as a reliable change leadership model. Kotter is a Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School and the founder of the management consultancy Kotter International. He’s regarded as an international authority on successful change leadership and effective change management skills. Kotter introduced his model in his 1996 book, Leading Change – one of Time magazine’s ‘Top 25 Most Influential Business Management Books’ of all time.
Kotter’s eight steps start by recommending that you create a sense of urgency around the change that you’re leading. They go on to cover building a ‘guiding coalition’ of people to coordinate the change, and a ‘volunteer army’ that will put it into action. The next steps include forming a strategic vision, removing barriers, achieving short-term wins, and building on these by continuously introducing more changes. Finally, you embed the change in your organisation so that it becomes the modus operandi for the long term.
Kotter’s model highlights the importance of vision and strategy; teamwork; and building and maintaining good habits. The process is particularly useful for implementing large-scale change in an organisation; it’s about big steps towards big change.
But small steps can be equally as effective. The Japanese change leadership philosophy kaizen is based on this idea. Practising kaizen involves making continuous, incremental changes to help your organisation to eliminate ‘waste’ – whether that’s physical materials, time, effort or money.
Kaizen helps to avoid stagnation, because it involves believing that there’s always room for movement in a more positive direction. The meaning of kaizen says it all: ‘change for the better’, stemming from kai, meaning ‘change’, and zen, meaning ‘good’.
This approach emphasises not just continuous improvement, but also shared responsibility. Employees across the organisation – the main workforce, line managers, the C-suite – identify ways to improve efficiency, and everyone then helps to implement these adjustments.
So, kaizen can achieve transformation in less traumatic ways than aggressive, top-down, impersonal approaches. As pointed out by Toyota – who include kaizen as one of the core principles of the Toyota Production System – this approach ‘humanises’ the workplace and promotes employee empowerment. It has been adopted not only in production industries, but also in government departments, healthcare, psychotherapy, finance and other fields. See here for helpful examples of applying kaizen in the workplace and tools you could use to do the same.
We can see a common thread running through both of these approaches: a focus on the personal as much as (if not more than) a focus on the organisational. Recent research by Deloitte echoes this, showing that workplaces want leaders who nurture their employees through change. In Deloitte’s survey results, one of the top unique requirements for 21st century leaders was the ability to lead through influence.
Emotional intelligence is at the root of this emphasis on the personal. Change leadership expert Barbara Trautlein makes this connection clear in her concept of ‘change intelligence’, or ‘CQ’. She defines this as ‘the awareness of your style of leading change, and the ability to adapt your style to be more effective across people and situations’.
Trautlein maintains that each change agent tends to lead with their head (focusing on vision, mission and strategy), hands (working on planning, tactics and execution), or heart (concentrating on connection, communication and collaboration) – or through some combination of these three. The most effective change leaders, she suggests, use all three flexibly.
The human angle
If we take a similar human focus and vocabulary, and apply it to Kotter, kaizen and Trautlein’s key ideas, what do we get? Here it is – a handy summary that you can use to help you lead change effectively:
– ‘Know thyself’, know others and plan accordingly: Use your knowledge of your leadership style and your colleagues’ personalities and professional performance to help you choose the wisest strategy for the change.
– Keep an open mind – continue learning: Educate yourself about leadership, emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication, and new ways of transforming corporate culture.
– See and be seen: Have a clear vision of where you want the change to take the organisation – and be visible in helping to make it happen.
– Mind your language: Help to evoke the attitudes and behaviours you want your colleagues to apply to the change – positivity, enthusiasm, willing collaboration – by choosing your words carefully. Use ‘we’ rather than ‘you’, ‘opportunity’ rather than ‘challenge’. This will make it feel like a voluntary team effort for your colleagues, rather than a task being foisted on them by others; the change will become doable rather than daunting.
– Have empathy: Imagine how your colleagues feel about the impending change. Dispel any anxieties or fears they might have by highlighting how the fundamentally good things about their work, about the whole organisation, are staying unchanged – an approach advocated by research published recently in the Harvard Business Review.
– Feel the positive vibe: Let your belief in the strategic change fuel your enthusiasm and positivity about it. This can be more infectious than you’d think; it helps to make the change tangible to your colleagues, because they see how it’s boosting your mood and increasing your creativity. As leadership expert Dr. David Rock puts it, when we frame our vision for change positively, this helps to ‘create the kinds of emotions that actually free up cognitive resources, [...] free up creativity for thinking in new ways’.
– Take heart: If, on the other hand, you or your colleagues have doubts about the change, remember: ‘[w]hen you want to change culture, act your way to new thinking, don’t think your way to new action’. Have courage – make the change, and the enthusiasm for it, and understanding of its wisdom, will follow.
– Be hands on: Lead the way by making the change yourself; be there and be an active player.
– Point it out: Explain clearly to your colleagues the benefits of this new way of doing things.
– Applaud and beckon: Praise those who follow your lead and engage in the transformation, and encourage others to join you.
– Sweep obstacles off the table: Remove the barriers to progressing with the change.
– Take baby steps: Create short term wins – bit-by-bit changes, marginal gains – because these are easier to achieve, and, when combined, they still succeed in making a big transformation.
– Stay moving: Keep making the footprints that others can follow in: persist in embedding your new practices and reinforce the message for everyone that this way is the highway to multiple benefits.
Here at Logicearth, we constantly see L&D professionals effecting radical change in their workplaces – for instance, moving from traditional, SCORM-based courses to more sophisticated and engaging assets and resources for a contemporary learning experience platform (LXP). Products like Verify and Scale are ideal for paving the way from old-school elearning to cutting-edge digital learning.
Digital learning itself is a perfect launchpad for your organisation’s change initiative. Why? Because, when done properly, it’s based on good learning experience design that, by definition, involves understanding people. Built for a positive user experience, the digital learning resource engages learners early on and makes knowledge retention and behaviour change feel effortless – even enjoyable. It’s a proven format for powerful leadership training. It can be one of your most valuable assets in propelling your organisation through change to exciting new territory.
Be the mover
So, flexibility and forward movement are key. Be prepared to change yourself first, and then move boldly to forge the path that others can follow. The rewards are many; you get to enjoy the new territory first, not to mention the satisfaction of inspiring and empowering others, and sharing their sense of achievement in growing professionally and personally.
This human aspect of leading change is, certainly, not easy. Behaviour change is a notoriously difficult challenge, whether you’re undertaking it in a personal or professional sphere. But then again, since you’re dealing with human psychology, it’ll be, at the very least, dynamic and full of variety – endlessly interesting.
Let us guide you in using digital learning to lead change in your organisation. Our LXD and digital design expertise will help you stride through the transformation you’re introducing and bring your colleagues alongside you as willing participants.
So, the next time you’re leading change, start with yourself! Focus on you and then your people, and all sorts of profits will follow – professional and personal. You’ll be a stronger leader with happier, more flexible colleagues who’ll meet future opportunities for change with a smile rather than a frown.