Successful businesses adapt in the face of shifting market demands, evolving business models, new technologies and global competition. Leaders at all organizational levels, from the C-suite to middle management, must manage change well. However, that is far more difficult than many ascending leaders anticipate. Successful business transformation requires strong top-down leadership, accurate forecasting, effective strategies, companywide buy-in and consistent execution.
While leaders invest tremendous resources on change, it’s possible for leaders, predictions, plans, strategies and frontline personnel to fail. Consider these findings from Gartner: Most current organizations have undertaken five major, firm-wide changes in the three years prior to being surveyed — and nearly 75% expect to multiply the types of major change initiatives they will undertake in the next three years. Yet, 50% of change initiatives are clear failures, 16% have mixed results and only 34% are clear successes.
As a current or aspiring business leader on the frontlines or in middle management, how can you foster the shared understanding and commitment necessary to bring your team and organization along the path to successful business transformation? What qualities must you develop as a successful change management leader? Here, we address three critical success factors:
1. Be a Change Management Model
Roll up your sleeves and prepare to learn new management skills because crossing your arms and rejecting top-down business decisions is not an option. Set an example as a flexible leader who is willing to learn, express support for the new vision and demonstrate to your subordinates the kind of buy-in, commitment and extra work it will take to transform successfully.
Leverage the power of influence within your team; the more you can work with employees you trust to work toward a goal and inspire the unmotivated, the easier it will be to gather group momentum. Everyone needs to feel as if they have a voice and some job autonomy. Support those who are most willing to change, sway the fence-sitters and learn how to adjust messaging to persuade.
2. Match Talents to Projects
One of the most difficult aspects of change management is freeing up your best talent from the time-consuming regular work they are involved with to take on leadership roles in business transformation. Identify those who have the specific talents your group’s work will require and allocate their time to change management projects accordingly.
To account for the impact on day-to-day work, you may need to hire new employees, if possible, or give other employees training so that you can delegate their work to someone else.
3. Get Buy-In with Durable Commitment
Buy-in starts at the top levels of leadership and trickles down. If leaders are not committed, then followers are far less likely to give best efforts.
Many leaders feel they demonstrate an appropriate level of enthusiasm for change, but they are not conscious of how their support is received. A good rule of thumb is to encourage a change initiative three times more often and with more enthusiasm than your intuition suggests is necessary. Ask questions that require subordinates to give their buy-in as a group and individually, especially in front of peers. Manager and peer influence are crucial and equally important.
Core curricula in the MBA program typically include coursework that prepares students to manage change. The University of Illinois Chicago’s MBA with a Concentration in Management online program offers courses focused on organizational behavior and strategic management. Completing these courses alongside other courses and electives in the MBA program helps students lay the foundation for success in change management.