Bottom line: Every organization—whether a church, business or nonprofit—needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy.
But here’s the thing about change. If you’ve ever been in leadership you know this.
Change is hard. Very hard.
And it’s especially hard for some people. In fact, in my experience, the most common reaction to change—at least initially—is rejection or rebellion.
And that’s what makes change difficult to lead.
Learning to lead change successfully may be the single most important challenge of any leader.
I’m not an expert. But I’ve led some change. Some successfully. Some not.
And along the way I’ve learned a few things.
Here are seven principles that can help you successfully lead change:
Establish trust.You can best lead change from a pre-established trust in your leadership. New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of major change early unless that change is vital to the organization. Major change will be easier if the leader has established some credibility.
Introduce change early. This is where “early” comes into the process. People need time to warm up to the change that is coming. The less you surprise people, the greater your chance for success can be. Change always comes with an emotion attached, and giving ample notice allows people a chance to acclimate those emotions.
Communicate often. Inform people along the way by keeping them updated with the progress during a period of change. Include the good news and the bad news in these updates. Hold nothing back. I’m not sure you can over-communicate. And use different means of communication to make sure you catch everyone and every style of listener.
Widen the distribution. Get buy-in from as many people as possible. Sometimes leaders have to lead alone. People can’t understand where you’re taking them that they need to go but may not even know yet or want to go. But those times of loneliness should be rare. Wherever possible, include others in decisions concerning change.
Follow through on commitments made. The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep. Be true to your word.
Be consistent. You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where you are as a leader, what you are thinking and why you are making the decisions you make. And pay attention to the word “why”—it’s critically important. People need to learn you, and seeing a consistency in you over time and testing, and the more they understand why, the more accepting they will be of change.
Change continuance. Do not make change a rare occurrence. Build a culture of healthy change so that it will be more naturally accepted when it comes. That takes time. And experience. You need some wins so people learn to trust you when you are trying to lead change.
There are a few things I’ve learned about leading change. What have you learned?