Building a Foundation for Organizational Change

Maureen O'Leary Pickard

For the management team, changing an organization can be a matter of choice or a business imperative for survival. Whatever the reason, the only way that change will stick is when it is embraced by others throughout the organization.

While management's role is to plan and implement a new structure, it takes leadership to guide people through the transition. And how that transition happens is fundamental to the success of the change process.

An involved leader can show people how their interests — their dreams — can be realized, and invite them to participate in navigating the path of dream fulfillment into the future. The Five Practices identified in The Leadership Challenge provides a great template to ensure the success of organizational change.

First, ask yourself why someone would follow you, as a leader. In order to follow, we must trust that the future you are framing is where we want to go. It is a matter of credibility — credibility that is rooted in what you stand for and demonstrated by what you have already accomplished. The competence and values that you have shown in past interactions with people, and the relationships you have built, are the fundamentals of trust. If you have established a solid foundation, your conviction and enthusiasm for a new vision will be enough to influence people to listen to your message.

You must answer questions about the need for change. If people are clear about why change is necessary — not only for the organization but what it means to them, personally — it is easier to embrace the new path and release the hold on the old ways of doing things. A compelling picture of what the future can be, along with an invitation to participate fully in the process, will result in a shared mental image.

Listening also is an essential element to make change happen. People need to know that they are part of the solution and feel they have some control over the outcome. It may be in hearing comments about why others are resisting change that a new approach — one that will be embraced by everyone involved — can be found. As a leader, your vision of the future is important and it is essential that you invite others to help figure out what needs to be done to move toward that vision.

Respecting the past while embracing the future also plays a critical role. We generally want to do a good job and feel that what we have been doing has been effective. However, change takes us out of our comfort zone. When we are faced with something new, we can feel incompetent and want to seek shelter in old and familiar ways. Some people may even try to sabotage a new initiative, which is why a change in the organization should respect the past and embrace the future. Engaging people in opportunities that build on their strengths and interests will result in more people feeling confident and knowing how to move things forward. By giving people a chance to explore new ways of doing things, experimenting and taking risks, you encourage creativity and innovation.

Trusted leaders take people where they haven't been before. Change is a process that can be exhilarating for some and very threatening for others. But helping people see that the future is more compelling than the current situation can make it easier for everyone involved. By setting goals that move the organization in the right direction, you not only move the organization forward but build individual confidence as well.

And finally, celebrating milestones of success allows people to see progress and affirm to them that their efforts are making a difference. A celebration acknowledges and energizes people while also anchoring the changes that have been made.

Organizations need to be flexible in order to respond to economic changes, global competition, and unexpected pressures. Creating the future by involving people in the change process sets the stage for a culture that is innovative, by attracting and retaining the most capable and engaged talent.

Maureen O'Leary Pickard is founder of The Performance Group, co-founder of The Leadership Journey, and a consultant with expertise in change management, executive coaching, and organization alignment. A Certified Human Resource Specialist (CHRP) and a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, she can be reached at maureen@performancegroup.ca.

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