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How leaders can lead organisational change successfully



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This article is brought to you by CCL.

Organisational change can be complex, continuous and often difficult. CCL’s research has shown that 75% of change initiatives fail. That is because organisations often neglect to address the human elements that accompany major transitions, including emotional complexities, diversity of perspectives and behavioural resistance.

Focusing intently on process at the expense of people can inadvertently destabilise teams or even an entire organisational structure.

So how can a leader lead change in the organisation and do so successfully?

Change is calling – embrace it

As difficult as organisational change may be, there are people who choose to endure organisational change, and there are those who embrace it.

Those who embrace change are the first to recognise its positive potential, even if the initial steps of change are disruptive or confusing. These are the sort of leaders who help major transitions become successful and sustainable.

By accepting that change can be good, effective managers and leaders help smooth over phases of turbulence as they rally optimism in co-workers and bolster overall team confidence.

Moving people from a familiar past to an uncertain future requires vision and confidence.

As the organisation introduces change, encouraging people to get on the same page is one of the most critical responsibilities of leadership. Leaving behind old ways takes time, but it becomes an exciting and worthwhile endeavour.

Organisations ought to conquer complex change by adopting a mindset change – one that encourages leaders to think fewer, think scarcer, think faster and think smarter.

At the same time, learning opportunities and assistance are bonuses – these ensure that we are not learning the wrong lessons from our experience and having others around can help provide guidance, support and feedback. In the end, learning through experience is indispensable.

But it’s not simply just a matter of trial and error. The best performers in their individual fields of expertise are not born that way; they practise their way into it.

In fact, research has revealed that 10,000 hours of practice seems to be the tipping point between someone who is very, very good at something and someone who is a true genius.

This presumes a lot of things – that the person has an aptitude for the work; that they continue to learn and improve rather than repeating the same performance over and over 10,000 times; and that they are fortunate in having the support and resources that enable them to engage in such a focused activity as they progress from amateur to expert.

Without proper coaching and mentoring, we can learn the wrong things and repeat them over and over again. The concept of it is just like learning golf – it can take endless hours on the practice range to achieve little improvement without the help of professional instruction to correct mistakes.

Therefore, if you have a coach or mentor who understands how to lead complex, continuous change – take advantage of their support.

Achieving breakthroughs in learning

Breakthroughs in learning are usually the result of readiness and opportunity. We find it difficult to perform at a higher level unless we have already learned the skills required to do so.

Once we have prepared ourselves, we need the opportunity (sometimes more than one) to put our new skills to the test. If we achieve success, our learning is reinforced – that is a breakthrough.

We are faced with the challenge of becoming better at leading complex, continuous change. We have recognised that our current way of responding to change has not worked very well.

Overwhelmed with projects, and many of them are not producing results, we need a better way of doing things. There are consequences for failing to improve, but we should always remain motivated to learn.

To learn, we need support, opportunity, resources and aptitude. Moreover, we must cope with bouncing back from failures and learning through them until we achieve a breakthrough in our ability. It can take some time before we see benefits that reinforce our decision to learn.

Ultimately, creating the conditions for learning to lead complex, continuous change can be challenging. In the face of demands to respond to issues that are constantly emerging, we find it difficult to take time to step back, reflect and learn.

Yet, we have a clear choice, whether we are aware of it or not: to continue on as we always have or to invest in learning.

The author, Dr Bill Pasmore is the senior vice-president of global organisational leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) and the author of the new publication Leading Continuous Change.

CCL is a top-ranked, global provider of leadership development. By leveraging the power of leadership to drive results that matter most to clients, CCL transforms individual leaders, teams, organisations and society. Our array of cutting-edge solutions are steeped in extensive research and experience gained from working with hundreds of thousands of leaders at all levels.

Ranked among the world’s top five providers of executive education by Financial Times and in the top 10 by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CCL has offices in Greensboro, NC; Colorado Springs, CO; San Diego, CA; Brussels, Belgium; Moscow, Russia; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Singapore; Gurgaon, India; and Shanghai, China.

For more information, please call +65 6854 6000 or visit www.apac.ccl.org or email ccl.apac@ccl.org.

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