Today, whether you’re running a small agency or a Fortune 100 company, you are undergoing some kind of business transformation. There’s no way around it. The world is changing at a faster pace than ever before. Consumer preferences, needs and behaviors are evolving. Technology has enabled new ways to do just about everything, including how consumers shop, connect with brands and purchase. Not to mention, competition. Smaller, scrappier players have come into the market and disrupted companies that have been on top for decades.
What often takes a back seat is the human side of transformation.
As Managing Director of a borderless global digital agency, we exist to help our clients transform their organizations and make what’s next. It’s not uncommon to see companies focus primarily on the technology, infrastructure, operations and costs associated with change. This is all critical in driving toward a vision. What often takes a back seat is the human side of transformation. More specifically, the people who are working at these companies are greatly impacted as their roles and expectations of them are changing. As this happens, are we doing everything we can to help them navigate change?
Through my own successes and failures with business transformation and partnering with clients who are driving change in their organization, I have found three fundamental ways leaders can help their teams navigate change.
Tell people where you’re going and then bring them along the way.
Communication is king and is so often overlooked. I don’t think leaders do it on purpose, I think they believe they have shared their vision. Perhaps they have, but it’s likely not enough. Your vision isn’t front and center with your team unless you put it and keep it there. One of my favorite authors, Patrick Lencioni, talks about this in his book The Advantage. “The only way for people to embrace a message is to hear it over a period of time, in a variety of different situations, and preferably from different people. That’s why great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else.”
One of our clients, Steve Cragle, CMO of Community & State at UnitedHealthcare, is exceptional at this. He’s so focused and consistent in his messaging that our agency team can (and does) recite it regularly in our office. His philosophy is that you have to say the same things until you hear people say it back to you. Because until then, they haven’t comprehended it.
Develop a supportive learning environment.
Some people are energized by change, many are afraid or at the very least, uncomfortable with it. It’s our job to help them get out of their comfort zone and try new things…take risks.
When I asked Cragle what he has learned through his process of business transformation he talked about the value of vulnerability. Leading a team through change doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers about how you’ll achieve your vision. In order to allow people to thrive, it’s more important to create an authentic environment which enables psychological safety, the shared belief that people feel safe to try new things, fail and learn in real time without negative consequences.
Create a culture of accountability.
If you’ve completed 1 and 2, you’ve done a ton of hard work already. Developing and sharing your vision, aligning a team, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work is no small task. You’ve also empowered your team to do their best work. In an ideal world, the team has risen to the challenge and everyone is succeeding. But that’s not reality. In a changing environment, you will encounter apathy, discomfort and negativity. Some people simply don’t want to get out of their comfort zone and despite your best efforts to inspire and motivate them, it may not happen.
Accountability is critical for everyone – low performers and high performers.
Accountability is critical for everyone – low performers and high performers. High performers need to know that their efforts are noticed and appreciated and that they are setting the standard for everyone. Low performers need accountability to either move away from apathy or if they can’t get there, into a different role that is better suited to their skill set.
This is hard. But it can also be the place where the most growth happens. According to Cragle, “you must have tension to get results.” He believes that an organization needs a burning platform for transformation to happen. That you have to get through discomfort to get to a place of learning and growth. Cragle says, “It gets my adrenaline up to solution. I want to convert that anxiety into a healthy tension. If there is no tension, people get too comfortable.”
I couldn’t agree more. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” More than 100 years later, those words still ring true. Transformation is messy, uncertain and hard. If we can help create an environment where people want to challenge themselves and each other and if we can gain inspiration, new strengths and experiences from that, that’s time well spent.