How to lead through times of change

by Stuart Duff, Partner and Head of Development at Pearn Kandola

There are many ways to strengthen and improve the way that leaders lead through times of change, most of which reflect how challenging change can be within teams and organisations. We often talk about the ‘change curve’ and how individuals respond and react in different ways to the introduction of change. Here, we focus on how leaders can improve the way that they set goals to enable change.

Setting clear, long-term goals for your organisation is never simple, and when you’re on the front line of these changes, it’s your job as a leader to make internal transitions as smooth as possible for your team. Preparation is key, and there are steps that every leader can take to ensure that they are providing greater clarity and stability for employees during turbulent times, starting with outlining a clear strategy.

Set goals strategically

As a leader, the best way that you can prepare for the changes you’re making is to make sure your vision is clear. And making a strategic, specific set of goals can help you do that. One goal setting tool that might help is the V-SPORT model, which outlines the core elements of planning as:

  1. Vision – Determine the focus of the strategy. Ideally, this will line up with the organisation’s ethos and complement overall goals and objectives.
  2. Stakeholders – Identify key customers, stakeholders and other appropriate parties to ensure their support. Keep them informed at each stage of the process to maintain interest and commitment.
  3. Priorities – Prioritise what’s essential to the strategy’s eventual success. This is incredibly important once the plan is underway, as time and resources might be pressured.
  4. Opportunities – Keep everyone involved aware of the benefits that you are working towards to help maintain momentum. Raising awareness of smaller benefits that arise from the process is also sensible, like learning new skills and increased awareness of competitor activity.
  5. Risks – Take time to explore potential difficulties, repairing ways of avoiding or managing them effectively.
  6. Timelines – Create a strategy that’s flexible and allows for changes within or outside of the organisation. Make sure that you consider the current situation, and how this might change in the future.

Despite now having a clear plan, there’s still much more to do to enable you to succeed through times of change, whilst providing stability for the wider team too.

Make sure your plan is realistic

When making any plan, it’s important to think about the timescale in which you want to achieve your end goal. You should consider your plan in a broader context, keeping an eye on what’s going on in the marketplace and always factoring in economic or societal trends. It’s also worth considering what your competitors are up to, and making sure you’re aware of new developments in the industry.

Don’t take your eyes off the prize though, and remember to focus on what the strategy will look like from an internal point of view. What’s your timescale? What resources might you need? And how does all of that affect finances?

Make sure that your goal is as definitive as possible. Using the S.M.A.R.T technique will allow you to make your goals specific, realistic and measurable, explaining why they’re worthwhile, and allowing you to celebrate smaller achievements on the way to hitting your big targets.

Keep everyone in the loop

Once your goals are strategically set out, the next step is to make sure that everyone on your team is aware of what’s going on.

Making sure that there’s a shared sense of trust within the team is vital. Sudden changes within an organisation might leave staff feeling disheartened and confused, but it’s important to remind team members that they’re not the only ones feeling this way. A great leader will always keep their team up to date, no matter whether the news is good or bad, and recognise that the more your employees don’t know, the more anxious and speculative they’ll be.

Fill your team in on the important details, deadlines and objectives, and let them know that they can come to you for support. Open the floor to questions regularly, as concerns are more than likely to arise along the way. Make sure that everyone knows they have your trust and full attention in times of change and ask if there’s anything you can do to address unanswered questions along the way. This will also demonstrate that you’re present and understanding, facilitating trust and showing that you value the team in its entirety.

Stay positive

Keeping a level head can be difficult through a period of change, and it’s easy to complain when something isn’t working. It’s vital to remember to stay positive during times of adversity, though. The changes that your organisation is going through are likely to be unavoidable and spreading negativity throughout your team won’t help to accelerate progress.

It’ll likely benefit you personally, but positivity can have a huge impact on your team, too. Always remember to celebrate achievements, whether they’re big or small, and make sure you take the time to thank staff for their hard work and effort. Setting time aside to focus on every employee, if necessary, helps to show your team how valuable they are to you.

And, while your team is trying to cope with change, it’s likely that not everyone will be happy. Some team members might be unsure about what’s going on, leading to frustration and possible conflict. Try to offer constructive solutions and keep the peace within the business. Your end goal is to help employees to feel comfortable and content, whilst being able to get on with their workload as smoothly as possible.

Being in a position of authority has its perks, but it also has its challenges. And through times of change, it can be even more of a complex task. What’s important is that you can address your team with confidence, clarity and positivity. Make sure that every employee is aware of what’s going on, help them to feel valued and trusted, and keep the peace whilst offering consistent support.

Your role in overseeing this period of change is essential in making the process run as smoothly as possible. It might sound difficult, but this transition won’t last forever.

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