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Leading During a Time of Change

As a business executive, you will inevitably encounter a significant change in your organization. These changes can be a structural reorganization, buy-out, crisis, or a social shift such as diversity and inclusion. This article will discuss why, as a leader, you can feel empowered to engage in leading during what may otherwise be a precarious, unpredictable time for the company.

Leading During a Structural Reorganization

Structural reorganizations have become very common in the business sector. However, structural reorganizations are rarely successful. According to the Harvard Business Review, two-thirds of reorganizations deliver at least some performance improvement. Be that as it may, over 80% of reorganizations fail to provide value in the time planned, and 10% cause actual damage to a company. Employ the following steps to ensure the best chance of success for the inevitable structural reorganization.

  1. Define the Human Benefits, Costs, and Time to Deliver.
    The goal of a reorganization is the pursuit of efficiency and productivity. However, once employees get a whiff of the dreaded word, “reorganization,” nearly 60% of structural changes cause a noticeable reduction in productivity. Employees have more significant stress and anxiety surrounding reorganizations than layoffs.
    When determining benefits and costs, it is not just about the bottom line. It is crucial to consider the human cost of disruption and change to the business during the process. When making these plans, the most successful reorganizations are as fair, transparent, and reasonable as possible. With this objective in mind, the likelihood of success will increase because the employees will be more likely to support the reorganization and potentially even offer improvements that you may not have considered before.
    When analyzing costs and benefits, take time to understand the company’s current weaknesses and strengths. This is an area where employees can provide valuable insight. More on the power of employee influence is continued below.
  2. Communicate the Reorganization.
    As a leader, it is incumbent upon you to manage the expectations of your employees. The more fair and transparent you can be, the more buy-in you will have.
    # Plan communication in all steps of the reorganization, clearly and transparently.
    # Focus the communication on topics that matter to the employees, not to you. You are outnumbered by your personnel; it will suit you well to get them on your side.
    # Communicate in person. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to send yet another email. When you communicate in person, you can read reactions and the overall mood of the employees. If you can keep an accurate pulse on the people, you have invaluable information that can either encourage you to continue to course or pivot as necessary.
    # Listen to your employees. Two-way communication should be encouraged. Their perspective is valuable and can aid in potential unforeseen circumstances you may not have known prior.
  3. Consider Multiple Options.
    It is much more important to focus on how the organization works during a reorganization, not what it looks like. Failed reorganizations fixate upon what reporting structures look like, valuing a pretty chart to be seen by less than 10% of the company. Successful reorganizations concentrate on management systems, the behaviors, and mindsets of the people.
    When debating and deciding on an organizational model, do not fall into the trap of allowing only like-minded people in the decision room. With multiple options on the table, this allows for productive and healthy debate in arguing for a particular model. This essentially allows the best solution, representative of numerous vantage points, to emerge, thereby positively serving most people.
  4. Be Open to Learning and Adapting.
    After the nuts and bolts of re-writing job descriptions, title adjustments, etc., you cannot remain stubbornly stalwart to the plan. Unplanned hurdles are to be expected, and you must stay flexible enough to listen and adapt as necessary. Allow employees to voice their concerns constructively and adjust as appropriate.

Leading During Change

The four tips outlined above focus on structural reorganization as it is the most common type of change a business executive is likely to encounter. However, if you find yourself amidst a buy-out, social shift, or crisis, the following concepts are transferable.

  1. Keep your employees in mind as fellow humans.
    Although they may not have the same perspective as you, your employees make up most of your company and its success. They will make or break your positive response to the change. Listen with empathy and value their input. As much as they may not have the same perspective as you, conversely, you do not have their view either.
  2. Communicate fairly and openly.
    As humans, we are resistant to change, especially when it comes to stressful situations such as a crisis or buy-out. As a leader, promote two-way communication and be present for these conversations. No matter how difficult they may be, it will always be better if all parties can share their viewpoints. It can only lead to a better solution.
  3. Consider multiple solutions.
    Dovetailing the previous point, when multiple viewpoints can be shared, numerous solutions will often arise. When determining the best solution, ensure that the deciding council is representative of various perspectives.
  4. Listen, learn, and adapt.
    Continue to honor and respect your employees’ opinions. As you progress through the change, be flexible enough to accommodate unexpected obstacles and view them as learning opportunities. Not only will this allow for mutual, respectful discourse among you and your employees, but you will emerge from any crisis or change stronger as a company.

It’s easy to get lost in spreadsheets, figures, and charts. However, the best trait you can offer as a leader during a time of change is one of shared humanity. If you can keep the perspective that a company is made up of a team of humans, each with their own experiences and stories, you will be able to weather any tumultuous change. Approach your employees’ experiences with empathy; you’ll find many more allies and a network of support.

Written by Dr. Marlon Atherton. Have you read?
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Dr. Marlon Atherton
Dr. Marlon Atherton is a driven, motivated, and transformational leader who has an earnest passion to see people of God restored to the kingdom. He also served honorably in the United States Army as an Enlisted Soldier, Warrant Officer and an Officer. As a decorated combat veteran, Dr. Atherton uses his background to complement his leadership strategy. Dr. Atherton loves spending time and travelling with his family. Dr. Marlon Atherton is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.