Navigating change is usually a rocky road, how can you help orientate your team for the journey?

There's a lot written about the importance of mapping the journey and creating the right vision as a critical part of any successful change program.  In fact, the ability to 'articulate a clear, compelling vision' is ranked number 1 in the recent research carried out by Sirius Decisions on critical leadership skills. 

It's clear this is necessary as a communications tool, to get customers, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders on board and for them to buy into the vision and understand the strategy behind why the planned change is necessary.  But the need for a clear and compelling vision isn't enough for the team that are going to be doing the hard work of change.  They need something more than a compelling vision from the person in the driving seat. 

The reality is driving change in uncharted territory is hard, it takes time and investment, it involves risk and sacrifice and it almost certainly requires more blood, sweat and tears than originally anticipated.  It's important you have the right people, who can endure and stay true throughout the journey.  Transformation is not for everyone - many prefer a much more predictable day job (and they may be better suited to the 'run the business' rather than 'change the business' team). 

If you're in the 'hot seat' of any significant change program, it's critical when you are building the transformation team, for you to ensure they are aware of  not only where you are going with your change strategy but also what the journey will mean in terms of the personal ask from them.  So what can you do to make sure you set expectations with your change team?

  1. Don't sugar-coat how hard it will be.
    Having led and participated in many business change programs, my advice would to be brutal with the message and the expectations you have from the change team.  Set out your vision along with the challenge it creates up front.  Give people the opportunity to opt out early on and make that OK.  You need everyone in the 'change the business' stream to be aware of what they are buying into, the timescales and what it will require of them.  People new to significant change projects tend to get swept up with the excitement in the early days and are at risk of burn out if they use all their energy in the first cycle of the project.  Significant change takes time, it's more of a marathon and certainly not a single sprint. Building resilience and patience into the team DNA will serve you well.
  2. Be clear what culture you are building within the change the team. 
    They need to know what behaviours you are looking for and what approaches are OK or not e.g. is your strategy to move fast or to be perfect?  You can't have both and you will exhaust and confuse the team if you are not clear up front and consistent in your expectation and feedback.
  3. Don't wait until the going gets tough to build regular positive engagement.
    Everyone needs feedback, recognition and reward and this is even more critical in a change team.  Build regular one to one reviews with your team leaders into your schedule and don't allow them to be derailed by fire fighting. Consider retention deals for critical change members and put them in up front rather than when the road gets rocky - so you are clear from the start that this will be tough but it comes with reward.  Build weekly and monthly milestones into your plan to build and sustain momentum and focus.  Celebrate those milestones with the whole team and not just those directly involved, the feel-good factor is contagious.
  4. Know your role and articulate it.
    You may be responsible for the project but you can not deliver it yourself.  As leader your role is to ensure your team delivers the best result and collectively pull together for the best outcome.  Concentrate on enabling, supporting and serving your team, smoothing their way by blowing out the barriers and powering up their tools and resources.  You are responsible for the culture of the team and ultimately that may be the deciding success factor!
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Consistent, authentic, clear communication is your greatest ally.  Not just within your team but to all the stakeholders who influence and are impacted by the outcome.
    "The biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place" - George Bernard Shaw

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