leading a team

18 Aug 2020

How to effectively lead a team through change and in times of uncertainty

Knowing how to effectively lead a team through change has never been so important.

The mindset and skills of all leaders need to match the demands of the 21st century workforce, and the current pandemic has just highlighted this even more.  Our latest article is a must read for all leaders.

Employees around the world are reporting that large-scale and seemingly never-ending change initiatives are affecting how they work. From digital disruption, leadership transitions and restructurings, to mergers and acquisitions, to regulatory changes, there seems to be constant unrest in the workforce.

The mindset and skills of all leaders need to match the demands of the 21st century workforce, and the current pandemic has just highlighted this even more.

The statistics

According to a study by Gartner last year titled, “Reshaping Leadership for the Future,” 50% of leaders surveyed didn’t believe they were well equipped to lead their organization into the future. Similarly, only half the team members surveyed for the same study said that their leaders effectively create vision for the future of their team.

The pressures the COVID-19 crisis has wrought are unlikely to have improved the situation.

How are leadership requirements evolving?

In the past, leadership was all about what skills you had and your ability to get results.  Simon Sinek refers to this type of leadership as being finite. In a finite leadership game, there is a start and a finish, a winner, and a loser. The mindset is one of competition rather than collaboration and win at all costs. This approach won’t work in today’s environment.

Today, we need Future Fit leaders who have a more  humanistic mindset and have higher levels of emotional intelligence and agility. Leaders who are more people centric and who recognize that business is a long-term game that can only be “won” if we have the right team in place to serve all our stakeholders. These leaders have what Sinek refers to as an infinite mindset.

So how do leaders effectively help their teams to navigate change? 

Detailed below are some critical practices that with the right mindset will help leaders to effectively lead a team through change.

Don’t assume others understand the need for change

Those responsible for leading change cannot assume that employees understand the reasoning behind the change.

You must spend time explaining the changes and why they are important. Expect to get a variety of responses from fully buying in, to wait and see, and early opposition.

A key leadership role is translation of the message. Leaders must tailor information in a way that is uniquely relevant to the audience.  They must highlight the team’s role in the greater goal.

Inspire people by presenting a compelling vision for the future.

To be successful, the story needs to start with the company’s core mission and offer a compelling and inspiring future vision. Leaders want to answer: How will the changes we make today help to achieve our vision for tomorrow?  This is not always in an uncertain, ambiguous world, but as humans we crave direction and it is core to engagement and motivation – ask: what can we get clear about?

Start with a narrative or story that clearly articulates the “big picture” – why change is important and how it will positively affect the organization long-term.

This should serve as the foundation for how you communicate about the change moving forward.

Keep employees informed by providing regular transparent communication

Change communication is never a one-and-done event; keeping employees informed is something that you will have to do throughout every step of the change process. Studies have found that continual communication is the leading factor in transformational success.

When thinking about how to communicate, keep the following in mind:

  1. Be clear and consistent:All your communication should tie back to the narrative, reiterating the case for change, and presenting a compelling future vision.
  2. Create a change hub: Providing an outlet for colleagues to share and see all the information related to a task, including progress updates and informal commentary, can create an important esprit de corps.
  3. You will not have all the answers:Often, you will not have all the answers employees are looking for, and that breeds anxiety and uncertainty. It is important to focus on what you know and be candid about what you don’t.

Let employees know you are committed to communicating openly and transparently, and will follow-up as soon as you know more.

  1. Don’t forget to articulate “What’s in it for me?”:One of the most important phrases you may come across in change communication is “what’s in it for me?” If your employees understand what’s in it for them personally, you’re more likely to see individuals commit to and own the change.

Empower leaders and managers to role model and lead through change. 

Major changes or transformations often require asking employees to adopt specific behaviours or skillsets to be successful.  According to Mckinsay, when leaders model the behaviour changes, transformation is five times more likely to be successful.

Leaders not only need to be equipped with information and resources, but they need to feel confident leading through change. They need to be given the remit and backing to make necessary decisions locally with a good rationale and without fear.

How your leadership reacts to change will trickle down and impact your managers, who then impact your employees and their engagement.

Find creative ways to involve employees in the change.

When planning for major change events, it is important to solicit feedback and engage people in the process. This helps build ownership in the change and makes employees more likely to support the change and even champion it.

Demonstrate progress

Organizational change is like turning a ship: the people at the front can see the change but the people at the back may not notice for a while.

Being transparent with the activities and results relating to the change help to make it feel more urgent and real.  This creates momentum which push an organisation to a tipping point where the changed behaviours become ‘the way things are done’.

Take a humanistic leadership approach

Above all, these practices require a more humanistic leadership approach.

Founder of Engagement Multiplier, Stefan Wissenbach, has isolated seven key qualities leaders need to succeed in these challenging times.. These seven qualities are:

  • Courage
  • Credibility
  • Confidence
  • Connectedness
  • Consistency
  • Caring
  • Commitment

How each of these characteristics are perceived by team members contributes to the effectiveness of a leader.

Being able to effectively lead change within your organization is crucial – and impacts your culture and your bottom line. Companies who are highly effective at change management are  three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform industry peers, according to McKinsay research.

Need help to ensure your leaders are future fit and able to effectively lead their teams through change? Contact Mantle here for an initial no obligation consultation.