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How leaders can embrace change and continue to thrive through it

by Ana Lopez
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If you’re anything like me, when you think back on the past year, you find yourself reeling from what feels like a punch in the gut. At the start of 2022, companies were looking for new hires amid a nationwide staffing shortage and trying to find a flexible work plan that suited them. With 2023 underway, many organizations are setting sail for what is increasingly looking like an impending downturn by tightening budgets and issuing hiring freezes.

Navigating change will be the anchor for leadership in 2023. As a business leader, you already realize that change is constantly taking place. Economies fluctuate between recessions and expansions, stock prices rise and fall, innovative technologies and industries disrupt businesses, and so on.

The typical response to change can vary greatly depending on the person and the current environment. Some want to take immediate action, while others take a wait-and-see approach. It’s only natural for us as humans – and as leaders – to feel comfortable in our current state and find a rhythm for success, only to be thrown off track by change.

But what if instead of simply reacting to disruptions, we turned them into opportunities for innovation and growth? Here are some key strategies I’ve found useful for successfully navigating change – and even embracing it – as 2023 kicks into high gear.

Related: 7 Ways to Stay Resilient in Uncertain Times

1. See change as untapped potential

Seasoned leaders know that dealing with change will always be part of the job. The key is for leaders to recognize that change can be a good thing, and to rethink change as an untapped opportunity for employees.

A few years ago, we made the proactive decision to turn our business model on its head and embark on a massive digital transformation. We weren’t doing too bad – we were doing better as an organization than we’ve been in a long time. But our CEO at the time felt there was a better way to serve our customers: by moving to a digital subscription model. And if that turned out to be true, it would be much better for our customers and our organization.

I was tasked with testing the model with a portion of the vendors and customers, with the results quickly proving that the idea was viable. But it was not an easy decision as a public company to transform our business. We had to address everything: what we sold, the way we sold, the way we engaged customers, the company’s financial model, how we recognized revenue, how we accounted for our sales, how we went to market and more. Somehow every touch point of our company had to change.

Throughout that process, we knew that if we failed to capture the hearts of our people, this change would fail and the benefits we envisioned would not materialize. As leaders, it was our job to help everyone in the organization understand that while we didn’t have an answer to every question, ultimately this step was the right one for them and our customers.

We often believe that leadership is about having the ‘big idea’. But the idea is just the starting point. Leaders need the willingness to face reality, make adjustments, get input, make adjustments again and take people along. That is the real work of leadership.

Related: How to get comfortable with change and build it into the foundation of your business

2. Make a plan for better change management

When it comes to change management, I’ve seen organizations of all sizes on every part of the spectrum. Some business leaders have done a great job developing change management plans that are flexible and involve their entire workforce, while many others have not.

Having a change management plan in place is both a failsafe for organizations and a safety net for employees. It is a clear signal to employees that as a leader you know that change is coming and that you can trust that you will lead the organization through what is to come. Building a great change management plan includes predicting the changes you expect – and what you as an organization and your individual departments will specifically do to move forward.

3. Communicate your plan and lead by example

Start by getting in touch with your own personal responses to change. As you do that, your empathy with your team grows. Use that empathy; it’s essential to help your team persevere when the going gets tough.

Empathy plays a huge role in communicating effectively with your team. Successful leaders involve their people directly in change. A change management plan is nothing but words on paper if you as a leader don’t communicate it and get support from your people.

Regardless of the size of your organization, one of the best ways to communicate your change management plan is to ask employees for feedback early in the process. Be a sounding board and listen when they express concerns about the expected change. It is essential to meet people where they are in order to successfully gain their support for a change management plan. Try not to focus too much on the process – people make up your teams, so be human in your approach.

Related: Want to make your workplace more human? Here are 4 foolproof ways.

4. Encourage leadership at every level

Once you have received the support and communicated with your employees, trust your leaders to take the helm and begin implementing the plan within their individual departments and teams. With every small victory, your leaders will find the courage and motivation to move forward with your change management plan. They will know that they can turn to you as a resource for raising concerns or providing direction, but they will also know that you trust them to make important decisions and continue the initiative.

Over the past decade, we’ve worked with hundreds of organizations to equip them with the skills not only to develop change management plans, but also to create change-ready cultures where people change from fear and aversion to change to embracing and thriving through change.

As we look to the next few months, don’t be afraid of what’s to come. You’ve navigated uncharted territory before, and you’ll do it again. Use these insights and work with your employees to create a change management plan that’s right for your organization and you’ll sail steadily – even through the storms – and come out the other side.

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