Negotiating Change -- The Key to Survival in the 21st Century

Every company, regardless of its size, maturity or industry, needs to keep pace with a dynamic marketplace.  As a result, the ability to manage change has become increasingly critical.  Has your company developed strategies to make productive use of change?  Significant change is never easy, but in our experience, successful executives utilize the following approaches:

Expect and Embrace Conflict: Every significant change effort breeds resistance, a natural byproduct of asking people to alter their normal ways of behaving and thinking.  Effective leaders make such conflict as productive as possible by engaging critics, both to learn why they resist needed change and to persuade them that the change is necessary.  They also focus attention on important or contentious issues that people are grappling with but not openly discussing.  Finally, they resolve matters by revising their initial plans to better address interests articulated by their reasonable critics.  Consequently, they develop a plan that can better gain widespread support and create lasting results.

A client pursuing a major shift in its organizational focus made sure it engaged skeptics in a constructive dialogue.  It began with senior management, and then broadened the conversation to include middle managers.  As a result, every manager knew of the change effort and why it was urgent, and had an opportunity to influence its content.

Make Change A Collaborative Effort: One paradox of successful change is its need for the active involvement of senior leadership as well as people from across the company with diverse skills and perspectives.  Another paradox is the need to blend the passion of inspired individuals with the resources of a focused group.  Thus, a company seeking change must form a small and committed group of influential individuals working as a team to craft a vision for change that attracts genuine appeal.  The better they work together, the more effectively they sustain change across the organization. 

One client brought together its senior leadership team with a broader group of experienced or promising staff to form a team responsible for overseeing a radical change in business strategy.  This diverse group (which drew upon every department and included very junior people) required a significant amount of training around candid communication, conflict management and relationship building before they learned how to operate smoothly.  Some members needed a crash course in business fundamentals to be able to engage difficult economic issues.  But once that occurred, they rapidly developed a strategic plan that addressed challenging business needs while resonating with the bulk of the firm.

Learn From Your Past, Prepare For Your Future: Every organization has to change over time.  A firm can guide its actions by examining past attempts at change.  Contained in that history are successes and failures from which leaders can draw lessons about what works in this particular firm. Just as important, they can learn from current attempts at change to better prepare the company to move more rapidly in the future.

One client found that the opposition of its union impeded previous change efforts.  So this time, it made every effort to genuinely engage the union president early, and found they were rewarded when she realized how change benefited her members, and became a key champion for change.  More importantly, the union remains alert to the needs for additional changes.

Being successful in today's dynamic marketplace requires you to lead change effectively.  Is your approach to change working for your company?

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