To Drive Organizational Change, Focus on Customers, then Lead the Way

Organizations that are customer-driven and that truly listen to the voice of their customers understand that doing so means change. Change in people, processes and systems. Changes in internal processes that will make it easier for the customer to do business with them instead of their competitors. Changes that will drive new products and services designed to better meet the needs and desires of their customers. Changes in metrics that define and drive performance. Real, tangible and lasting changes must take place, as organizations become customer driven and become better builders of profitable customer relationships.

How do you manage simultaneous change that is taking place across the organization? How do you lead an organization when you may feel like you’re drowning in a sea of constant, rapid change? Is it possible to survive and thrive with change? The answer is yes. Surviving change is difficult and it will take effort to manage and embrace change.

Change is No Longer Linear

In the past change was linear. You could make plans to deal with changes one at a time, as they came. Employees and managers had at least some time to adjust to and adapt to change. But in today’s business environment change is taking place across the organization simultaneously. Sales is installing new Customer Relationship Management software and adjusting their data and reporting for the new system. Billing is introducing a new process for speeding bills to customers that should reduce your DSO timeline. Production has just jumped on the Six Sigma bandwagon and process improvement missionaries have been set loose in the company.

And what happens when the volume and speed of change is this great. In the face of things that seem out of our control, the old “fight or flight’ rule often takes over. Employees who feel overwhelmed will often resist the change or if fighting back is not part of their personality, they may literally flee the change by leaving the company or the department. As humans we can adjust to only so much change and still accept and adapt to it.

So as a manager or leader of change, does this mean that you wait for calm before introducing any other changes regardless of the need for or merit of those changes? I wouldn’t wait if I were you because there is no such thing as “the calm before the storm” any more. It’s one big storm and we need to learn to lead our team and companies through the storm and onto the next one!

Becoming a Successful Change Leader

There are some basic steps that you should take to become a successful leader of change that will help you and your organization.

Throw Away your Superhero Costume

Resist the temptation to do it all. You can’t hold everyone’s hand, you can’t solve every problem and you can’t manage all the simultaneous changes. Identify those who have demonstrated that they can survive and lead through change and assign goals and responsibilities to them. This is a unique opportunity to build and strengthen future leaders. Your company’s future depends upon experienced leaders who know they can and will be successful despite constant change.

Understand and Master the Change Process

Successful change leaders know what to expect and can see trouble coming a mile away. You should study the change process and be prepared to guide your team through the process. You need to understand the effects of change and be prepared to address those, especially around the issues of “fight or flight.”

Personally Embrace Change

You must set the example by keeping a positive attitude and by focusing on the objectives and results not the problems. You need to be organized and proactive during the more stressful periods of change and you must remain flexible. Resilience is an important virtue practiced by successful change leaders.

Align the Change to the Organizational Strategy

To avoid the feeling of “change for change sake” among your employees, it is important that they clearly understand the reasons for the change. They need to understand the ultimate good that will come of out the seeming chaos. Leaders should focus on the organization’s business imperatives and goals and not get lost in the “newest good idea”. Change must always advance the business strategy and be able to demonstrate results that directly and positively impact your customer relationships and your bottom line. Focus on the outcome of change and not the activities needed to get there.

Encourage Ownership of Change, It Diminishes Resistance

Employees must be included in the decisions about the change process at the earliest possible opportunity. No one wants to be forced to change and only employees who feel heard and valued will willingly accept and adapt to the change.

Mistakes Happen. Accept It, Encourage It and Get Over It!

Lasting, effective results driven change doesn’t take place without risk. Any change initiative is a risk and your employees must be allowed to take calculated risks even if they result in mistakes. It is the fear of mistakes and the fear of failure that is at the heart of resistance to change. The most effective way to counter that resistance is to make it clear that you know mistakes will happen and that they are part of the learning process. Real knowledge is never gained without mistakes.

Out With the Old, In With the New – Maybe!

The more successful you are, the more rigid you can become in how you work and approach problems. With the rapid pace of change, as a leader you will be required to examine your old way of doing business in light of new market forces. Don’t hold onto to old patterns just because you are resistant to change. Look for ways to innovate and be creative in devising new ways to solve today’s business challenges. Let go where you need to but be only after a careful review of your options and methodologies. Being new and different doesn’t always make it right but tried and true may no longer work either.

Celebrate Reincarnation

You embarked on change for a reason and it was to be different – to be reincarnated! Celebrate the reincarnation and reward those who helped get there. Encourage your employees to reinvent themselves just as together you have reinvented the company. Personal and professional growth is the result of constant learning and risk taking. Those who eagerly embrace this knowledge and apply to themselves will become your best leaders of change.