Three Must-do Practices for Leading Change

The pandemic has brought massive changes in the way we work — and in response, organizations globally are adapting and transforming. I’ve been fortunate to coach an increasing number of leaders and top teams managing these changes in real-time. I’m constantly inspired by their willingness to find new ways of leading.  One important capability stands out from the rest among successful change efforts across industries and organizational stages:

Beyond a great vision, strategy, roadmap, and a capable organization, the leader's or team's ability to build broadbased and sustainable support is the key to leading transformative change.

Here are three essential support-building practices that work well:

1. Assess your playing field

List then initially categorize every single person and team pivotal to the success of your transformative vision and roadmap—whether deliverers or stakeholders, both inside and outside of your organization, into one of roughly six buckets:

  • Supporters (Taken tangible steps to support your vision and roadmap)
  • Cautiously in favor (Modestly shown or shared views in favor of your vision and roadmap)
  • Wait-and-seers (Not expressing a solid view or acting for or against)
  • Naysayers (Told or shown you or others that they don’t foresee this succeeding)
  • Blockers (Taken tangible steps to work against your vision and roadmap)
  • Don’t know (You need more information to categorize)

2. Listen even when you think you know (already / better / best)

Once you’ve bucketed your critical people, count your votes. Then it’s time for your listening tour (which as you’ll see below becomes a perpetual practice). You’ll ask and listen for different things depending on which bucket they land in.

For those in the supportive-already buckets, you can ask, “What tends to energize you and to deplete you when it comes to what we’re doing?” and “What challenges are you facing that I don’t seem to be aware of?” and “Where am I under-investing in what’s important and meaningful to you?” and “What should I be asking you that I’m not?” Your job is to ask, listen, record, and not debate. Thank you, what else should I know?

For the middle ground fence-sitters and mild naysayers, it’s important to ask, “Where have I left you falling short of excited to invest in what we’re doing wholeheartedly?” and “What would fire you up if we were to change one or two key things about the changes we’re making here?” and “What do you need from me to get collaborative value from the changes we’re making?” and “What should I be asking you that I’m not?” Record their answers, and don’t debate them.

For those in the blocker and heavy naysayer category, it’s important to ask, “I’m guessing I haven’t made my case in a way that gets you fired about what we’re hoping to do, and I would like to try a different approach--to hear you out and think more deeply about what you tell me: where am I missing the mark of what’s important to you?” and “What am I not seeing that’s getting in the way from your point of view?” and “What do you need from me that I’m not attentive to?” Record their answers, and don’t debate them.

3. Take your steps, then rinse, repeat steps 1-3

Analyze what you’ve heard from each of the groups, and you will likely find some red threads that weave through their answers. Categorize those into what you can and can’t control, what you want to do, and are willing to do, to make change. Design your next steps accordingly and take them.

To build more resilience than resistance to change, it’s “rinse, repeat” these three steps on an ongoing, regular interval, and encourage your team to do the same with their stakeholders and deliverers, and so on.

By tuning in to and building support on the human side, in addition to having an amazing vision, strategy, and roadmap, will increase the odds of success, and moreover, have the impact on people’s lives that you and they will both find meaningful. Try it.

Related: Leading Well Includes Cleaning Out Your Blind Spots