In leading change, it's easy to focus so much on the desired outcome that the toolkit employees and managers have to succeed is overlooked.
In other words, the vacation destination is planned, but the logistics of getting there are left to the last minute. You can imagine the confusion, stress, and fear this can cause. Alleviating these stressors can be accomplished, for vacation planners and change leaders, by adding to the leadership skill set.
To help make your organization's next change project a success, here are 7 change leader skills you'll want to make sure are present among your change leaders so that your journey and arrival are equally enjoyable.
Before jumping into the specific change leader skills, it's important to understand who needs theses skills and why. It's typical, though not always advantageous, that change is developed at the executive and/or C-suite level, passed to middle managers, and then handed down to employees.
Whether you're a senior executive, manager, or front-line employee, you're going to have a hand in change - either in leading it or in feeling its impact.
While the experience of change is felt throughout the tiers of your organization, the middle managers are often tasked with carrying more than their fair share of the load. That isn't to say that senior executives aren't involved. They should be - not only in strategy and in meetings, but in visibly demonstrating actions aligned with the purpose and intent of the change and the values of the organization.
The middle managers are the ones who are tasked, by senior execs, with:
The role of the middle manager is not always an enviable one, though it can be one of great learning and opportunity to make meaningful impact.
Previous experience with change efforts influences how employees react to new change. If your company's had a rough go of introducing change, the memories that employees hold can lead to skepticism and resistance to change.
You have to give your employees a chance to enjoy the process of change if you want to lower their instinctive resistance. To do this, you'll need to introduce a new process that allows leaders to immerse themselves in the areas of:
Resistance doesn't stem from fear of the destination, yet from the discomfort anticipated in getting there. Equip your leaders with the following change skills and your "travel" (change project) will be as enjoyable as the "destination" (outcome).
In this LinkedIn post, I'd written about the importance of feel or gut instinct in decision-making. It's helpful as an ingredient in strategy, yet dangerous as the only source of navigation. That's because it isn't driven by process. A methodology doesn't exist to get you from point a to point b using gut feeling. Methodologies do exist, however, in several change models. Among those of common application are:
Where proven processes exist, trainings can be held, and skills can be learned.
Management communication is to employee morale, as business performance is to organizational success (Friedman, 2011). In day-to-day tasks, your managers are in constant communication with employees.
They're communicating through their actions. And, employees are watching to see if words and behaviors align. Throw in the additional communication requirements of a change project,
and the stressors and negative consequences of ineffective communication
are magnified and multiplied. Workshops on verbal, and non-verbal, communication and on communicating
through a variety of in-person, and digital, channels can prepare your
managers for the fast-moving environment of change.
The more people in your organization, more will resemble the red airplane in the image above. It's not a bad thing. It's the reality of employees being unique in their personal and professional experiences, skills, beliefs, and in their relationship to change.
Consider that a manager might not provide the same type of support and guidance for an employee in their first week on the job versus one with years of tenure. The manager's approach is situational, based on what makes that employee unique. While situational leadership is usually applied to elements of skill and will, a manager might also approach change conversations with flexibility based on how a particular employees presents.
Research has shown employers and university faculty as ranking cross-cultural communication skill as being among the top 7 most critical oral communication skills for students entering the workforce (Coffelt, 2016, as cited in Smallwood, 2020).
Globalization and geographic flexibility are making it more common for employers to recruit top talent around the world. It isn't unusual to engage with coworkers half a world away to collaborate on projects. Understanding of how cultural differences shape our perceptions, behaviors, and communication is critical to teamwork and change success. Becoming aware of our own biases, how they present, and how they might influence our decision-making is vital to business sustainability.
Equipping your recruiting team members, marketing personnel, managers, executives, and front-line employees with cross-cultural skill training and knowledge can lead to project success in the short-term and competitive advantage in the long-term.
If you consider business sustainability as a desired goal in implementing change, then emotional intelligence needs to be part of the conversation.
Where conflict and tension, like resistance, are naturally occurring in change projects, equipping your leaders with emotional intelligence skills is an appropriate measure in addressing the potential, negative consequences.
Considerations of cross-cultural skills and teamwork skills are closely related, especially as work teams become more diverse. De la Torre-Ruiz et al. (2019) as cited in Jankelová et al. (2022) suggest that diversity, improperly managed, can lead to conflict, inefficiency, diminished quality of product or service, decreased creativity and innovation, and increased employee turnover.
In change management, teamwork and collaboration are necessary ingredients in achieving desired outcomes.
Consider Kotter's change model and the 2nd step of forming a guiding coalition. This group, responsible for visioning, strategy development, and communication of change is composed of employees, managers, and leaders of different departments, roles, and tenures. Many of them may have never worked closely together before. That isn't to say that they aren't capable. It may take time and effort for their collaborative strengths to be as well-polished as their individual capabilities.
Where technology is ever-advancing, managers must have up-to-date knowledge of software and apps with the ability to utilize them in communication with their team members.
While training workshops can be foundational, and ongoing when scheduled consistently, another avenue to explore is in reverse mentorship. Top-down mentorship models see senior workers imparting their knowledge and wisdom upon employees newer to the workforce, whereas in reverse mentoring, while both parties may benefit, knowledge and skill improvements are passed upwards (Earle, 2011; Microsoft, 2015; and, Sodexo, 2017, as cited in Kaše et al., 2019).
Research has found the benefits of reverse mentoring to include:
Implement reverse mentoring in support of your change efforts and you'll improve the knowledge, leadership, and communication skills of your multi-generational workforce.
As you've realized, the avenues to be explored in applying change leader skills is a bit like a YouTube rabbit hole. The possibilities are nearly endless. Where each company is unique, it's important to assess:
This can help you narrow the above list of change leader skills to those of priority for your organization.
Rather than going it alone, the Luke and Yoda approach can help you in implementing change leader skills.
Each week I have my lightsaber and change management force powers ready to help young padawans (those seeking to improve organizational change management) in conversation.
Follow the links in the next section to get involved!
This section of the site is an excellent primer for insight on methodologies, tools, and resources that can support successful change efforts.
To continue your learning:
David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
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