Facts, force and fear don’t do a lot to drive real healthy and sustainable change but relating, repeating and reframing do so. But what kind of leadership is required to make it happen and what practical steps can you take to achieve change in your organization?

It’s about problem-solving

Successful change that had a real powerful effect on us was the fact that the leaders may change all about problem solving. Organizations have to change and to do things differently when things are not working.

Whether it’s a revenue shortfall, exploding costs, poor customer service or lack of quality, and while all of these issues require change, the real issue is solving the problem.

The word change can have a real negative connotation for a lot of people and it tends to evoke fear and even resistance, but most people are pretty good at problem solving as we do it in one form or another virtually every day of our lives.

So characterizing change as problem-solving helps people reframe and make the processing less intimidating and much more achievable. A savvy leader who needs to make change will say “We have a problem to solve and I know that we can work together to find and implement a solution”.

Approaching change as a problem-solving activity is a powerful way for all of us to reframe both what were going to do and why were going to do it.

Real change requires effective leadership

While leadership is essential to achieve organizational change, not just any leadership will do. Real and rapid change or problem-solving requires leadership that is effective, trustworthy and hands-on; and that means that you need the right person in charge of with the right qualities for the right change.

In fact the influence of leadership is so powerful that according to our participants the person in charge of leading change was the single most important predictor of success, and given our review of Deutschman findings I think it’s easy to see why this is the case.

Leaderships Skills for Organizational Change

So, what qualities and skills must the leader have to achieve change? Success stories show that leaders of successful change initiatives were: focused, energized, skilled and passionate about making things better.

Conversely, failed efforts were almost always poorly led with the person in charge often just going through the motions of the change effort that was mandated maybe by somebody else or undertaken largely for appearance sake or political posturing.

Successful change leaders were emotionally intelligent, they had great coaching and people skills and they accepted change is a critically important and ongoing part of their leadership role. Successful change initiatives are led by people who have courage persistence confidence and poise.

Change agents

Successful change leaders are often called change agents as they foster ownership of the improvement initiative. They don’t waste time or resources they make adjustments quickly and in the words of many they find a way to win.

It’s important to note that there are numerous examples of change that looked impossible but succeeded because the leader and their people pulled together to solve the problem. It could be saving a key account, launching a new product and organizational turnaround, great change leaders know that if you’re going to win you win with people.

Defining and communicating change

Effective change leaders clearly define what winning looks like. They do not start a change initiative without knowing and clearly defining the desired goals and outcomes for the effort.

One of the most obvious attributes of successful change initiatives was the fact that going into any change effort leaders and participants had come to the realization that performance on a specific performance dimension was not where it needed to be, that a problem existed and that clearly defined goals and outcomes had to be established.

So, a successful change effort is driven in the pursuit of a very specific outcome, whether it’s an increase in sales revenue, a reduction in cost structure fixing a broken process.  This level of focus also enables a leader to know whether or not success is achieved.

In contrast, unsuccessful change initiatives when replete with examples of changing for the sake of change, unclear expectations and people just going through the motions because they were told to do something without being told why.

A sense of urgency and speed

Successful change initiatives restudied also had two other critically important qualities a sense of urgency and speed. A sense of urgency conveys the people the importance of the effort. It can easily be translated into the need for speed which then gives the effort forward momentum.

Most successful change initiatives also employ speed, meaning that they typically happen sooner rather than later. It may be that it’s simply easier to maintain high motivation and to keep people focused on a goal over a shorter period of time and that people’s focus diminishes over the course of an extended effort.

In contrast, unsuccessful change initiatives have no momentum, they drag on and on and in many cases they simply languish and go away. Which means that they were either not important in the first place or at least that poor leadership gave people that impression.

Taking the time to know and understand

Leaders of successful change efforts take the time to know and understand what and whom they’re up against when going into any change initiative. They determine how well their skill set and the skill set of their team stacks up against the challenge of change.

One key component of this practice is evaluating everyone’s past change efforts and the results that they produced, another is taking the time to develop a scouting report, to understand who might oppose once change efforts.

These opponents might be the organization’s competitors or they might be people in the accounting department or members of upper management. in the words t just makes sense to look at what you’re getting into so you can see how you stack up against the problems that you have to solve.

So in this regard the next time you go into a change initiative stop and review your performance on your most recent change initiative and compare what you learn with what you will be up against in your next change effort.

Taking the time to do this can have a powerful impact on the success of your change effort, and please note, this gives you an opportunity to learn from your team members about how to correct.

Teamwork and talent

Still more vital elements of a successful change initiative are teamwork and talent. When you think about the problem-solving activities needed to drive change it makes good sense that you need a motivated group of people who are able to work together and who have the requisite skill set for the needs of your project. Among other things you probably need people with good IT skills, others who are good analysts and people have a good training and facilitation background.

The power of a team to solve problems is often overlooked get teams can be an invaluable source of ideas innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.  And, when a group of people are properly led develop a change plan or solution to a problem the team member sense of ownership over the implementation process goes up significantly.

Also don’t forget the critical elements of training and coaching. You need to equip everyone on your team with the necessary skills to achieve the results that you’re asking of them. If you don’t change efforts are likely to produce nothing but frustration and substandard results.