Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly. – Francis Bacon
As human beings our lives are about change. From the moment we are born, we change, grow, move and evolve. If we do not, we atrophy and die. And the same holds true for business. Growth demands change. Can you think of a business that has not changed and been successful over time? I bet you can think of many who did not.
Change is inevitable. Change is hard. Change is necessary. Universal truths every business leader knows and must consider. And yet, these truths do not alter one other important factor in preparing for change. Most people fear it.
Be it a merger, acquisition, layoff or strategic shift in your core business, change is not inherently positive or negative, good or bad … it is the management of it that makes it so. Every change is an opportunity for you as leader to strengthen your company and the connections you have built with your employees, your partners and your community. It is also time when those connections may be weakened, or broken entirely.
How you as a business leader prepare for and manage through change will make the difference. There are three steps you can take to prepare to change successfully.
UNDERSTAND YOUR PURPOSE
Understanding your company’s purpose is the first and most important step in preparing for successful change. Your purpose must be bigger than profit and grander than the product you make. Are you in the horse-drawn carriage business or in the business of moving people safely to where they need to go? If it is the latter rather than the former, then the inevitable change from horse-drawn buggies to motorized cars can be embraced by your team, and your business can grow and sustain itself as technology advances. Think of the poor buggy-whip company that did not think so expansively about their purpose. Where are they now? Knowing your purpose and building your change strategy on it will create a strong foundation for success.
FORGE YOUR STORY
People fear change because they fear the unknown. We cannot predict the future but we can forge a compelling story about what that future could be if we embrace the change ahead. To lead associates through change, leaders must be able to clearly define and communicate a future state that is intentionally designed, and compelling to their teams. What are the benefits of change, and the costs of not changing? What does the future-state look like, feel like? What are we working toward?
ALIGN YOUR TEAM
A story itself is worth little without authentic and believable storytellers. Leaders must take time to work with their leadership team to create alignment and followership. Socialize the change strategy and story with your leaders and key stakeholders, and give them permission to help you have insights that may alter it. Determine the values-based behaviors necessary to implement change successfully and ask your leaders to commit to live them with you. Assess the capacity for change on your team, understand and address the “elephants in the room” and develop strategies to address gaps in capabilities and leadership before you activate your change strategy. With this knowledge, outline the future state organization you will need to lead through this change and beyond, and create a transition plan to get there.
Now, you are ready to share your story and activate change. You have forged a compelling story about a future that is built on a foundation of your purpose. You have aligned your leadership with this vision and prepared the organization to realize it. While sharing your story, remember that you, and your leadership team, have already moved through the curve of change. To your employees this change is new, and scary. Take time to help them progress through their own change curves. And trust in your purpose and your story. It will not fail you.
This article may be reprinted when the copyright, link to article and author bio are included. ©2015 Storyforge, LLC. Please contact us for inquiries.
Haley Boehning is the Chief Change Officer at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.