Change is constant. Whether it’s a shift in your organization or the need to adapt to the ever-changing world around you, change is inevitable and necessary. Change as an individual, however, can be more challenging and uncomfortable than other types of change.
Change leads to growth, but it can also be scary and for many of us, it often leads to uncertainty and doubt, two feelings that most leaders don’t like to have. Leaders face a constant battle of staying aligned with strategy while also embracing change in their organizations and the people they must lead through those changes.
To combat this resistance, leaders must develop a change mindset – one that recognizes that embracing change is essential to long-term success and that developing new skills will help them adapt better and faster than others when faced with similar situations in the future. Here are some essential strategies for developing a change mindset:
Understand why change is necessary
A leader’s change mindset starts with understanding the bigger picture. You can’t promote change to your team, or get motivated about it yourself if you don’t know WHY the change needs to occur. Leaders should understand the current state of the organization as a whole, not just their own job or individual department. They should also examine what is and what isn’t working well in their organization as well as why things have changed over time.
Once a leader understands the big picture of change, it’s important that they be able to identify what specific areas need to change within their own department. Once identified, it’s also important that they are realistic about when and how these changes will happen. Humans can only manage a certain amount of change at a time. Try to implement too much change at once and you’ll overwhelm your employees. Prioritize the needed changes and implement them incrementally.
Be curious and flexible
The first step to bringing about change is to be curious and open. Leaders that want to embrace change need to be willing to explore new possibilities, take risks, and allow their minds to wander from the status quo. This can be incredibly uncomfortable for leaders who are used to always knowing what they should do next.
Help your team see the bigger picture
What’s the first word that children learn that drives parents crazy? Why. Why do I have to take a bath? Why do I have to eat vegetables? From the time we’re young, we’re not motivated to do things that we don’t understand the rationale for doing. This doesn’t change with age.
One of the best things you can do to help your team understand change is to give them a broad, strategic view of the overall picture. Often, leaders are focused on what they want to accomplish in the short term and fail to share how those actions fit into the big picture. This can cause tension between team members and make them feel like their contributions are not valued. When you share the big picture with your team clearly and specifically, they’ll understand the rationale for the actions you’re asking them to take and better understand their role and how they can best contribute. Having a sense of the value of their role will help team members be more productive, independent, and motivated.
Teach by asking, not telling
When consulting with leaders and teams who are navigating change, I always stress the importance of asking rather than telling. If you’re always telling team members what to do, they’ll never know what they need to change in order to evolve. When they come to you and ask, “What should I do?” ask them, “What do you think you should do?” If they don’t have an answer (and it’s not an emergency situation), encourage them to come back to you later with possible options. When you see them making a mistake, or taking “the long way” to get to a goal, ask about their rationale for taking that route and ask if there are alternatives. Encouraging employees to come up with their own steps and solutions will empower them to become more independent and proactive.
Celebrate every milestone
One of the best ways to develop a change mindset and to look at change more positively is to celebrate every small step. Leaders need to recognize that they are building on their knowledge, skills, and experience as they make progress through their work toward achieving a change. This type of mindset helps leaders avoid feeling overwhelmed by the process of change and allows them to stay positive throughout the process. The same goes for your team. Establishing milestones and celebrating the achievement of those milestones goes a long way toward keeping the team motivated through a major change at work.