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5 Tips for Leading Change: The End is the Beginning

Jeff Skipper

I LOVE ACTION! It’s my favorite part of every movie. Irrevocable decisions will be made. Heroes will push things beyond what’s reasonable. There will be no going back.

As exciting as that is for movies, it’s too often a fatal move in business. When leadership decides on a change — a new app, or a new process to help customers — everyone wants to get moving so that they can realize the anticipated results as soon as possible. However, you can’t successfully lead change without having a clear destination. In the rush to demonstrate that action is happening, that’s a simple point too often missed. Quick wins can lead to big losses if we are not moving in the right direction.

Clarity on the goal eliminates confusion, sets guidelines for tactics, and avoids wasted time and effort. But we can’t pursue just any direction. The end goal needs to make sense and appeal to the people you are leading. Given that different people have different priorities — and we act in our own self-interest — the challenge is getting everyone aligned and moving in the same direction.

Here are five proven tips for leading change by starting with the goal:

1. Set a singular goal: Set a single overarching goal for the change. Make it as clear as possible. Change cannot be about one hundred things. It must have a single, clear focus that encompasses varied interests while being resilient enough to withstand shifts in circumstances.

2. Stay high level: We want to be clear on the destination, but not so specific that it doesn’t allow for adjustments. Keep the goal at a high enough level to allow for the inevitable changes that come as you begin moving forward. This allows for different approaches to achievement.

3. Include the basic details: When announcing the goal for change, the first two things that your audience wants to know is what the change is (the goal) and then how it applies to them. Tackle the basics by including all that the goal entails: the who, what, why, when, and where:

Where are we going?
Who is impacted?
What will I need to do differently?
What’s in it for me? Will it hurt?
Why are we doing this?
When will this happen?

4. Paint the picture: There’s a difference between telling them the facts and telling them a story. Sharing the goal in the form of a narrative that illustrates what the future will be like once the change is in place has the biggest positive impact on people for motivation and buy-in. How will customers’ lives be different? How will life change for employees?

When you roll out a new change, it’s common to still be mapping out the journey — how it will be accomplished. Tell your audience that the details are coming and give them a timeline. It’s more important to get them thinking about the goal while you are still working out the details.

5. Highlight the benefits: Highlighting the benefits of the change infuses it with purpose, making it easier for people to support. Your audience needs to know that the change process is worth it. Connecting the goal with benefits for each person is an important motivator. Connecting the goal with benefits for others can be even more powerful. A change that helps those around us offers purpose and meaning to our lives, a common desire for everyone.

There’s one more element of change leaders should keep in mind. Nothing great or noble is accomplished without giving up something else. In that element of sacrifice, there may also be some pain. Consider what happened during the pandemic, when so many businesses found themselves making sudden but necessary changes to protect their workforce. Life went through sudden changes as well: Families had to sacrifice their plans, kids went to school from home, marriages were delayed, social connections were lost. For some, the sacrifice was even more than that.

As a leader, it’s important to be sensitive to the negatives as well as the positives a change may bring. Better to call that pain out early and often and help people prepare. Laying out the goal clearly enables people to begin processing the reality of the change and the pain it may bring — so they are ready for what comes next.

Leading change is a noble calling. People want to know they can trust the person who is directing the charge. Before jumping into the action, take time to set a clear goal.

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Leading Forum
Jeff Skipper is an international change leadership consultant for organizations in energy, finance, technology, and other industries. For over twenty-five years, beginning with a twelve-year career at IBM, he has guided change projects by focusing on the people side of change. As CEO he grew a transformation services company to seven figures in just five years. He and his family live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. His new book is Dancing with Disruption: Leading Dramatic Change During Global Transformation. Learn more at www.JeffSkipperConsulting.com.

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