Backseat Change Driver

Capitalize on change initiatives to show your value as a leader.

By Christina Schlachter Dec 1, 2012
1212cover.gifWhether the initiative in your company encourages reinventing products and services for technology-savvy customers or finding new ways to engage a multigenerational workforce, change is the only constant in most organizations these days. Change is usually initiated from the top down, but only occurs when managers are engaged. To be an engaged manager, who then becomes a valued change leader and influencer, make opportunities to be part of the change—even when your name isn’t on the sponsor list.

Here are five powerful ways to make change effective:

Support organizational goals with individual priorities. Look at your daily to-do list and find ways to support the change. Find a meaningful activity to get the ball rolling. If your company is implementing a tool like Chatter or Campfire to enhance collaboration, start using the tool instead of e-mail to share meeting notes. Don’t limit yourself to day-to-day use, though. Look at priorities in your job and use one to support the change. Start researching and sharing information with your team about the new tool. Most likely, the change leader would be thrilled to have help.

Live with ambiguity. Don’t expect all the answers right away. Due to legal reasons or the complexity of the change, or because the answer is unknown, executives don’t always have answers. Keep raising concerns and ideas. Meanwhile, try to make a plan for what is certain and be flexible with what is ambiguous. One caveat: If you feel that ambiguity in communicating the change is disturbing the workplace, speak up loudly.

Understand your leadership style. Knowing your leadership strengths can help you manage up the organization and coach employees and peers through change. Consider taking a leadership assessment or undergoing a 360-degree review to learn what others think of your strengths and weaknesses. Use this awareness to enhance how you communicate with other leaders. Start framing feedback and communication to meet the needs and preferences of others—especially the leader in charge of the change—as opposed to using the style that is most comfortable for you.

Create a community of peers. It takes a village to effect change. Yet change leaders often feel they have to carry the weight of the change. Having supporters that serve as the eyes and ears of change in the organization is priceless. If your organization has a change council, ask to be part of it. If your company does not have a change council, offer to organize one. Members of change councils work together to increase collaboration and trust from the top to the bottom of the organizational chart, hastening change.

Influence others with solid relationships. Even if your organization isn’t currently going through a change initiative, remember that to deploy the previous tips effectively, you need to build relationships. Trust and credibility take time, and the best time to develop them is when you don’t have the stress or the ambiguity that change brings. Talk with others about their needs and motivations, and find ways to support their career and job goals. Doing so will position you to become a valuable, influential change leader in the future. Use those same relationship-building skills to ease your employees through change.

Meaningful change lasts when an entire organization is involved. And if you happen to be in charge of the change, remember that employees who have the power to influence change are more likely to support the change in the future. Regardless of who gets credit for leading it, having a genuine desire to deliver the best possible change—for your customers, shareowners and employees—fosters meaningful change that lasts.

The author is chief executive officer of She Leads, an executive training and development company in Boulder, Colo., and author of Leading Business Change for Dummies (Wiley, 2012).


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