How to Navigate Organizational Change

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying: “The only constant in life is change.” This also applies to organizations. Whether you’re talking about government, nonprofits, or commercial businesses, change is inevitable. There are always emerging political or marketplace influences, new company owners or CEOs with different visions, and bureaucratic or departmental adjustments in response to opportunities and challenges.

When you’re in a leadership role in an organization, you have a significant impact on how others respond to change, as well as a responsibility to support them as they adapt. Here are some key steps leaders can take to better navigate organizational change.

Adopt a change mindset

Recognize that nothing stays the same. Change will occur whether you’re ready for it or not. Sometimes, you can see it coming from a long way off. Other times, it will be largely unexpected. Be prepared to experience many changes during your career, and try to guard against being blindsided by the unforeseen by staying in tune with what’s going on in your enterprise.

This includes expanding and maintaining your network of colleagues, keeping in touch with developments in your business sector, and being curious about innovations in related industries. Don’t forget to encourage creativity and big-picture thinking in your team members and staff. This helps them to respond more nimbly when changes invariably come along. 

Understand the drivers and impact

When adjustments are in the offing, find out all you can about what’s likely to happen and where the change is headed. You’ll need to discern the change drivers and what the desired outcomes will be. Reserve judgment while asking as many questions as you need to so that you understand what it will mean for you and your team.

Imagine the end result once the new initiative, approach, or organizational structure is implemented. Envision the steps to getting there and plan out how to lead your staff through the change. You’ll need to be ready to respond to concerns from your employees and take key issues forward for resolution.

Create a sense of empowerment

This step begins with detailed and ongoing communication. Your team members must understand the need for change and feel that they know what to expect. This includes appreciating where they fit in the grand scheme of things and the importance of their contribution. Your staff should already recognize the value of their work to the organization and, to enable them to get behind the change, they will need to see the important role they will play in the process.

Understandably, people react in different ways to change. Some are enthused by the opportunity to be involved while others can be fearful of what it means for them. By treating each team member’s questions and worries with respect and engaging them in the journey, you’ll empower them to bring their best efforts forward—and foster synergy within the team. The result will be employees who more clearly see the organization’s future and are motivated to assist. Additionally, it’s a good idea to identify some of the change leaders within your team (i.e., those whose positive anticipation will be contagious).

Put supports in place

Adapting to change, even if it’s viewed as favorable, takes energy. As mentioned, there are those individuals who are more reluctant to embrace change, and you’ll be able to identify who they are quickly. Be mindful that while others seem to have few problems with the shift that’s underway, they, too, need ongoing support. This involves you being as accessible as possible, having HR experts ready to answer some of the more technical queries, and making opportunities for your staff to hear from the CEO and other enterprise leaders. Also, solid supports will be necessary to assist staff in sustaining the momentum that the change requires.

Execute and monitor

It’s critical to collaborate with other members of the leadership team to ensure that change is managed consistently across the organization. This means following a coherent plan to execute new processes, practices, or policies at the same time. Clear and well-alligned communication is essential at this juncture, both between you and your staff and among all leaders in the company.

You’ll need to closely monitor how the new initiative is implemented, as well as the results, whether anticipated or unforeseen. This is a time to continually assess the effects on your department with personal observations and regular communication with your staff. Take this information to your leadership colleagues and the company CEO so that you can decide on any modifications and alter the plan.

In summary, navigating organizational change takes openness, tenacity, and strategic thinking. It’s not surprising that large institutions often devote considerable time and resources to change management. By following a few steps, leaders can be well-positioned to help their teams thrive during the process.