If there is one thing certain it is change will happen. The variable is the rate in which it will happen and how quickly you as a team or organizational leader need to make plans to adapt. Some will be more important and more urgent than others, however, there is an overall template of listening and communication that needs to be put in place in order to do this most effectively. Before that can happen many of us first need to deal with the one figure who can most often get in the way of success in our work: ourselves.
Get past thinking you have to have THE answer: One of the fundamental early mistakes people make when they get into places of influence is they believe they have to be the one who has all the right answers all the time. Influence is a give and take on input and direction. There’s no practical expectation just because someone is in charge that they will have the best idea for every situation. Too often I’ve seen a leader’s insecurities keep them from engaging with others to get to the right solution.
Seek to understand outside of your circles what is going on: This builds upon the first but is different in implementation. It is too easy for a leader to hear from the same people all the time. This risks building up a wall around oneself that only produces either what is familiar or what one wants to hear. To get to the best input an influencer will not only listen to greater circles of input but will seek to understand them as well. This is important because listening will only take one so far. Digging in and understanding the why behind the input can demonstrate an underlying issue that needs attention. In other words one may discover that what they thought was the issue was simply a symptom. Seeking to hear from wider circles may actually keep one from solving the wrong problem.
Delegate and vet plans with a project group: A leader should be involved in adapting and problem-solving in an organization, however, getting into the all the logistics of meetings and organizational communication involved can quickly pull a leader far deeper in than they need to be. Being willing to put aside pride and allowing others to shine can position the leader for input on the most important aspects. Short-term project groups are a great approach as they allow cross-functional communication and problem-solving. Designating a small group, generally 4-6 people, with clear objectives and reporting dates can increase overall organizational buy-in for the solutions while not unnecessarily tying the leader deeper into processes than they might need to be.
Over-communicate flexibility and forgiveness: Change is going to bring two things: resistance and mistakes. The consequences of these two can be mitigated greatly through clear and regular communication of the rationale for change, the new process, and embracing a learning curve. The resistance to change most commonly is tied to a lack of reason to have to learn a new way to do something, a fear that either one will do something wrong, or that one is losing an important way they contribute because of the change. Communicating a clear and urgent need for the changes has to be a mantra and it needs to be understood not everyone will hear it in a one-and-done speech. The rationale has to be repeated. Additionally, team members need to hear that everyone is on a learning curve in this and it is understood that mistakes are going naturally to happen. Team members need to be assured it is understandable and the way for the organization to get better is for them to talk about these things with each other and their supervisors. Potential shame on behalf of team members is a very real threat to adaptability and must be dealt with openly and genuinely.
Again, most often the biggest barrier to adapting in an organization isn’t the team, it’s the leader’s ability to show themselves to also be a learner. The disposition of “we are all in this change together” will get an organization much farther than one of “I’ve got all the answers and this is how you should do it.” Let’s all seek to be learners together and as a result be able to better strengthen our organizations.