Every organization — whether a church, business or nonprofit– needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy. But if you have been in leadership long you know there are some necessary steps to successfully lead change.
The fact is change is hard. Very hard.
In my experience, the most common reaction to change — at least initially– is some form of rejection or rebellion. We simply don’t like change.
And that’s what makes change difficult to lead.
Learning to successfully lead change may be the single most important challenge of any leader.
I’m not an expert. But I’ve led some change. Some successfully. Some not.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things.
Here are 7 suggestions that can help you better lead change:
You can successfully lead change best from a pre-established trust in your leadership. New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of major change early unless that change is vital to the organization. Major change will be easier if the leader has established some credibility.
Introduce change as early as possible.
People need time to warm up to the change that is coming. The less you surprise people the greater your chance for success can be. Change always comes with an emotion attached and giving ample notice allows people a chance to acclimate those emotions. (Granted, this one is not always possible, but exceptions should be rare and have an obvious reason attached to them – such as a pandemic.)
Inform people along the way by keeping them updated with the progress during a period of change. Include the good news and the bad news in these updates. Hold nothing back. I’m not sure you can over-communicate. And use different means of communication to make sure you catch everyone and every style of listener. Finally, use a caring approach, recognizing their sense of loss they are feeling as a result of the change.
Widen the distribution.
Get buy-in from as many people as possible. Sometimes leaders have to lead alone. People can’t understand where you’re taking them that they need to go, but may not even know yet or want to go. But those times of loneliness should be rare. Wherever possible, include others in decisions concerning change.
Follow through on commitments made.
The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep. Be true to your word. This is even more important when people are experiencing change.
You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where you are as a leader, what you are thinking, and why you are making the decisions you make. And the “why” — it’s critically important. People need to continue to trust your leadership, and the more they understand the why the more accepting they will be of change.
Do not make change a rare occurrence in the organization. I’m not suggesting change just to be changing, but the more you have a culture that anticipates healthy change the more it will be accepted when it comes. That takes time. And experience. You need some wins so people learn to trust you when you are trying to lead change.
There are a few things I’ve learned about leading change. What have you learned?