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How leaders can drive sustainable change

If you’ve read our recent posts on the change curve or hitting the suite spot, you know we believe it’s essential to engage people across all levels of an organization to drive successful and sustainable change outcomes.

While some organizations are blessed with a charismatic CEO who can energize the masses, numerous change management research studies over the years support our experience that direct supervisors and managers are often more effective in being the key source of information and inspiration for employees during times of change.

Companies who understand the effectiveness of this strategy often contact firms like ours to help their leaders effectively communicate the rationale and urgency for change.

Why? Because creating a compelling call to action involves more than sending out an email or organizing a quick team huddle. It requires leaders who are willing and able to implement several different measures based on the pulse of their operating areas.

So, how can an outside firm help create a call to action that resonates? Here are some of the strategies and techniques we’ve successfully employed in partnership with leaders from numerous organizations over the past decade.

Stress the how – not the what

A valuable lesson learned back in University is that the medium is the message. In simple terms, our firm places a greater emphasis on how a message is delivered than what it contains. This includes the language, tone and wording along with identifying who are the best people to deliver it.

This is determined through a stakeholder discovery process we highlighted in a recent post. We take the opportunity to learn about the scope, scale and nature of the change involved along with the impact it will have on people and the culture in the organization which shapes our recommended approach.

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. - Leadership expert Warren Bennis

Customizing a plan

Following our discovery process, we usually create a specialized game plan in consultation with senior leaders that can include some or all of the following:

Engagement tactics, including team meetings, fireside chats with senior leaders and feedback loops using a variety of communications vehicles

Leadership alignment tactics such as project sponsor meetings and executive briefings

Learning and development activities such as training and information sessions and demos

Sustainment activities, including updates to company policies and employee onboarding programs

Our focus and the level of detail in these various tactics and activities vary depending on the level of change that is being experienced along with the assistance the leadership team requires.

Helping leaders lead

Our experience has shown that leaders who have a high emotional intelligence (or EQ) have the most success in leading people through times of change. This is because they are able to understand and empathize with the emotions people experience during the transition phase.

In cases where leaders need assistance in connecting with their staff, we can offer coaching or resources – such as briefing material or decks – to help them convey their messages in an effective and thoughtful way.

We also stress to leaders that before they can lead anyone, they have to make sure they are emotionally and physically prepared for what’s ahead. This includes things we often take for granted such as getting a good night’s sleep or work/life balance.

To stress this point, we often tell leaders in coaching sessions that it’s no different than being on an airplane when oxygen masks drop during a turbulent trip. Before you can assist a family member or someone in need of help, you have to secure your mask first. The same applies to leaders who are trying to support their teams.

Change can be rewarding

There’s no question that leading an organization through times of change has its share of challenges, including dealing with a range of scenarios and also emotions. However, one of the truly rewarding parts of our role is seeing the leaders we collaborate with guide their organizations to successful outcomes such as a national expansion program or major digital rollout.

While we often view this success from the sidelines in our consulting role, knowing that our strategy came to fruition is just as satisfying as being there in person.

Does your leadership team need help dealing with change? Email us at to discuss your scenario.

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