Companies are changing constantly, and it is usually during these periods of transition that senior leaders can lead by example.
Through my experiences of running my own business and being part of other companies' management teams, I have learned that transition periods are stressful for everyone involved. However, senior leaders who can effectively manage through these changes can help their organizations be more successful.
Transition can take many forms, but I believe that how a senior leader deals with the transition should stay roughly the same.
For example, when a company undergoes a CEO change, everyone has a little anxiety over how the company will manage in light of a new person charting the path forward for the company.
On the other hand, when a company transitions to a new physical location or a different strategic direction, employees worry about how their daily routines and responsibilities might change. In both cases, how senior leaders conduct themselves can affect how effectively a company manages to get to the other side of a transition.
Here are three strategies that senior leaders can use to lead by example and manage through transitions:
1. Develop an attitude of confidence and calmness.
Senior leaders are often at the front line of communicating to employees and responding to questions. As such, it helps if they exude confidence—it can help employees feel comfortable with the changes.
Your demeanor should give off the impression that the management team has been very thoughtful in their approach to making the change. If you disagree with the changes that have taken place, it is still your management's responsibility to help you execute on these changes.
The exception will be if you no longer want to support the company in their efforts going forward as a result of these changes. In this case, developing confidence to potentially leave the company because you may disagree with the changes is an honorable approach as well. Even if you walk away, you can demonstrate an ability to lead by example—and you may inspire others to do the same.
Furthermore, developing an attitude of calmness during the transition can bode well for helping both the management team and employees handle the emotional toll that tends to surface during transitions. A calm attitude may help your colleagues see you as a “go-to" person at the company.
2. Use the transition as an opportunity to demonstrate the culture you want to have post-transition.
Senior leaders can leverage transitions as a way to develop a new culture with their colleagues.
For instance, when my company experienced an office move, I immediately verbalized the positive aspects of the previous office culture that I wanted to keep, as well as the negative aspects that I wanted to throw away. I then began putting my words into action by enforcing new office policies and rewarding behavior that adopted our new cultural norms.
Intentionality is also part of using transitions as an opportunity to positively affect an organization's culture. Consider actively obtaining feedback from colleagues and then incorporating that feedback into a plan going forward—it can be a great way to demonstrate your intentionality and lead by example.
3. Be as transparent as you can about the implications of the change.
Transitions can produce positive outcomes for some and negative outcomes for others. Irrespective of the outcome, I believe that senior leaders who are as transparent as possible about the implications of the change are setting themselves up for success.
For example, high employee turnover can cause big change for companies because old faces depart and new ones arrive. Employee turnover can cause a decrease in productivity and overall company disruption.
During these instances, senior leaders can communicate to all relevant parties about the nature of the turnover, how the company plans to address the turnover and what effect the turnover will have on the existing employee base. Erring on the side of more transparency than less allows employees to see that you are acknowledging the change and actively managing through it.
However, senior leaders must also exercise a level of prudence insofar as they do not disclose information that invites too many questions or raises more concern than intended. One tactical strategy you can use to gauge the appropriate level of transparency is to first test out your messaging (without breaching any confidentiality) with a trusted co-worker who has a good pulse on how your colleagues will respond to your message.
As senior leaders employ these three strategies, they will be in a position to lead by example, thereby also influencing others to adopt positive mechanisms to handle organizational change.
Regardless of which strategy you use, I've seen the most success emanate from senior leaders who employ these strategies with authenticity. When employees believe that you are authentic in the delivery and execution of these strategies, you may be able to increase your chances of success through any transition.
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