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Effective change management shifts from process-driven to a leadership way of being

Cathy Banks, Founding Partner and Executive Director of Analyze Consulting.
Cathy Banks, Founding Partner and Executive Director of Analyze Consulting.

While the past twenty years have been characterised by rapid change, the pandemic has sent this into hyperdrive. Our new normal is an appreciation that continual change is guaranteed. This means change management needs to fundamentally shift lanes to be relevant in our new world: it must move from a process or event-driven exercise to a leadership way of being.

The core concept of change management remains the same: one needs to get a business from point A to point B in the most efficient and effective way possible. The difference is that change management traditionally set up tactical and operational processes to achieve this final outcome.

This won’t pass muster today, especially since the change will look like A to B to C to D to E, and so on.

Change management, as a concept, has been around for as long as businesses have existed, and any leader will have experience in the highs and lows of the process, not least in managing the organisation’s people. You see, change is experiential, which means that everyone, every employee, every manager, and every leader, experiences it differently.

While they experience it differently, it will always involve cognitive and emotional responses. Some will thrive and others will close up and resist - like a child being carried out of a playground kicking and screaming when it is time to leave.

While any successful integration, investment or change needs to focus on the three core pillars of people, process and technology, it becomes apparent that change needs to be people-focused as this will inform processes. Without this, technology investments won’t achieve their objectives.

When we understand that change affects human beings emotionally and intellectually in a wide range of ways, it becomes clear that leaders need to understand and be able to manage the emotional drivers in an organisation, and they need to build an anchor or safety net of stability during the disruption of change.

Through research, both externally and as part of my own thesis on a similar but not identical topic, the anchor or safety net in a business comes from purpose. Companies that take the time to formulate and communicate a purpose, to which their people can orient, perform better in a host of areas and performance metrics - and the same is true for change. While you are going through change, your reason for being doesn’t change, rather the change itself reorients you to be able to live - and execute on - your purpose.

How then, should change management be approached to take this people-led approach into consideration? The answer lies in developing the leadership skills that allow leaders to embrace change as a way of being. Approaching change management with this lens is an important tactical shift because it enables leaders to accept that, yes, change is part of the business, part of who they are, part of their organisational reality, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rather, with this way of being they have the skill, behaviour, and thinking that allows them to lead a company culture that embraces change. In other words, the leader has a new way of being, and the employees have a new way of working - all underpinned by the solid anchor of purpose.

This new way of being and way of working enables the ability to change on an ongoing basis, providing a proactive approach to the relentless barrage of change both leaders and teams are faced with, creating a readiness for change rather than a reaction to the current project or specific change. As leaders, we need to own and set the change direction, and take the team along on the journey allowing them to individually reflect on and engage with the change in a meaningful way.

Of course, this entire exercise requires a high level of self-awareness and, to some degree, self-mastery. Viktor Frankl said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

What differentiates you is - you guessed it - the people and the relationships they build with one another and with the customer

Change management as a way of being presents a huge opportunity for businesses to thrive in our ever-evolving world, but it also enables a culture that will set the business apart. Our experience of partnering with businesses has shown that even if you were to launch a new product or service tomorrow, your competitors could match it a day later.

What differentiates you is - you guessed it - the people and the relationships they build with one another and with the customer: in other words, how you do business. It’s no different with change management, what will differentiate one business from another is how its leaders embrace a people-oriented way of being.

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