How top leaders orchestrate change

Every business needs to adapt and change, and the best ones do so continuously. Bob Cronin of The Open Approach offer for lessons for implementing change in your organization

Bob Cronin is managing partner of The Open Approach, an M&A consultancy focused exclusively on the world of print

Bob Cronin is the managing partner of The Open Approach, an M&A consultancy focused exclusively on the world of print

Change is hard in any industry, in any organization. But the reality is that change is the single largest factor in an organization’s success. Any change in trajectory, business model, personnel, culture — or ownership — can be especially daunting.

As leaders, we are expected to determine the best course for our businesses, which means we are also responsible for enacting and navigating the change required to get there. If a CEO cannot champion this, it can spell disaster for their companies — despite excellence in other areas.

Think of the once-great companies such as Eastman Kodak or Sears Corporation. These leaders did not think they had to adapt, even though they had the proper talent, power and resources at their disposal. And when they tried to, they were too late.

Let’s focus on ensuring you’re never one of them, with these four essentials that top leaders use when implanting change:

1. Help people embrace the concept

The first imperative of orchestrating change is understanding the idea overall. Few people like change. Or more on point, very few people like to change. When an employee hears about change, their first reaction is to start wondering what it means to them personally. Your staff will look at the change as to what’s best for them, not what’s best for the company as a whole. And they will fear it because of the unknowns. This is a normal reaction.

Good leaders help their people assimilate and see the change as a positive — from the perspectives of many roles. Think through the various impacts a prospective change has at different levels and be prepared to communicate to and mobilize people accordingly.

Change can be a time to reinvigorate staff and reward your hardest workers with new opportunities.

2. Establish and leverage a change management team

The process of considering changes and evaluating them can be challenging. As a leader, you need to decide who needs to be involved in these discussions.

If your management team is essential in a particular change, it’s good to have them involved in deciding on it and coming up with a plan to implement it. This is especially true in the case of an acquisition, merger, company sale or owner exit.

Many entrepreneurs make these deals on their own, with their top staff finding out during an introduction to new owners. Such a major change can then get derailed, and you’ll end up alienating your greatest allies and causing fear that permeates the entire team.

Have the right people involved at the right time and leverage their insights and perspectives. Leaders create other leaders; this is especially true in times of change.

3. Be Transparent

It’s important to get everyone on board. This includes employees, partners, vendors and clients — all of whom can influence a change’s success.

Plan and time your messaging to each audience. Communicate the reason for the change, what will be achieved by it, and how it will benefit the organization. Follow up with the positives for each audience. Make sure to provide such communications in a way where each individual in the specific audience receives it at the same time. If some employees hear it before others, you’ll create fear and suspicion. Likewise with customers, as any who hear it from outside your company will feel that their business and relationship are not valued and start looking for a new supplier.

Additionally, you’ll need to be transparent about potential negatives. The change may impact compensation, objectives and roles. It may require additional work for some or even temporary business disruption. When you touch on any of these points, you’ll develop resistance. Explain where you’re heading and how these changes will help get you there. Remind everyone that growth requires adjustments. Discuss the drivers behind the decisions, the risks you’ll avert, and your considerations.

People will find it easier to embrace change if they understand its goals and see it as the best possible option.

4. Run an organization that continually changes

Look to any industry, and you’ll see that the frontrunners are those that are constantly adapting. Some have done it by acquisition, some by convergence, and others by total industry disruption. Remember there was once a little online bookstore called Amazon?

The lesson is this: we all need to change so we can continue to grow and thrive. As leaders, we have two types of decisions: easy and hard ones. Done correctly, both can forever impact your business and its success. Leading a company takes impactful thought, solid reasoning, recognition of all the issues, and sound strategic goals with the universal benefit communicated in a manner people understand and support.

Every business needs to adapt and change, and the best ones do so continuously. It isn’t easy to constantly reinvent your business, but the alternative can be a lot more difficult.

Bob Cronin

Bob Cronin

  • M&A columnist