I would argue that all change is disruptive. You might not be disrupting your marketplace with every change you implement, but you will certainly be disrupting your people. As leaders, it’s our job to help people navigate that disruption and ensure each change is a success.
The key skills leaders need
Role modelling is absolutely vital. When leading disruptive change, there cannot be a single millimetre of difference between what you say and what you do. Going through change can be tough for your employees and they need to be able to trust the people leading them.
Another part of it is mindset, knowing that you need to change too. Leaders need a mindset of evolution, where they constantly think about how they will grow and become better and what the organisation needs to do to stay relevant. Thankfully through my sporting background, that’s something I was taught to do from an early age and have had many years of practice! My advice is to use mentors and friends who can help you see your blind spots.
Finally, it’s the ability to listen and stay connected to people. It’s important to recognise that communication is not just about baton passing – it’s like a waterwheel that’s continually circling round throughout the whole change. Make time to listen to what people are saying about the change and create forums where people can talk openly.
Working together as a top team
Leading disruptive change isn’t just about one leader, it’s about every leader in the organisation leading it together, and if you don’t get that right at the top, it’s always going to be a challenge to get a consistent message further down the organisation. Small cracks at the top can become gaping chasms further down.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to align your top team either. Uncovering everyone’s hopes and fears for the change is not going to happen in one meeting. External facilitation at this stage can be really helpful to help work through the group’s thorny issues. And, it doesn’t stop after that initial alignment. You need to create a continuous dialogue where the team can keep checking in with each other, and presenting a united front to the rest of the organisation.
The watch outs
By the time you’re rolling out a change within your organisation, you’ve been talking, planning and developing the strategy for a long time before you start communicating it to the rest of your organisation. One of my Board colleagues often uses the analogy of running the London Marathon. As a leader, you’re already heading down The Mall towards the finish before most of your employees have even started the race. You have to go back to the start of the race and you help the rest of your organisation get over the finish line. The challenging thing is finding that initial passion and enthusiasm you had right at the beginning, which can be really hard.
I get my motivation from thinking about the outcome I want from the change and reminding myself that, if I really want this change to work, I have to get everyone over the finish line with me, otherwise it won’t be successful.
For example, every month I share Lane4’s 2020 strategy at a company-wide event. It can be hard to get excited about presenting the same slide month on month so I look for the new faces in the crowd, the people who haven’t seen or heard about the strategy yet. They remind me that there are still people just starting the race.