I many times feel sorry for many business leaders who get a sense of entrapment between a rock and a hard place. They feel so because on one hand they realise that they need to constantly transform their organisations to make them more resilient, more efficient and more responsive to changing consumer preferences, whilst on the other hand they need to make sure that whilst implementing such changes they do not end up losing their best talent. Many times I see business leaders giving up on implementing the smallest of changes or worse still reverse changes implemented, as they get easily held up by their employees who would threaten to leave if such change is pushed forward or not reversed.
So how can business leaders reconcile these forces which seem irreconcilable? Can business leaders implement the necessary changes to allow them to remain competitive, without losing some of its best human resource in a tight labour market? Here are some insights with regards a number of elements that business leaders can use to balance the need for business transformation and still pay attention to the emotional and psychological state of their team members.
1. Inspire – Create a vision that everyone can believe in and a sense of purpose that everyone can buy into: Vision sets the tone and serves as the foundation for the transformation. For this reason, the vision cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to the immediate circumstance. It needs to be well-considered and take a long-term view. To make it real, business leaders need to clearly articulate not just what change needs to happen but WHY such a change needs to happen. At the same time, employees need to see themselves as part of the transformation and understand its benefits. As such, it is critically important to explain and constantly communicate to the workforce the long-term vision – and expected outcomes – of the transformation.
2. Show you Care – Build a culture of psychological safety and provide the right levels of emotional support: A minor change is likely to bring about uncertainty – it is the so called emotional journey. Resistance is quite normal in the very first stages of this journey. So business leaders that have the necessary emotional intelligence to manage the emotional journey of their workforce will be critical either to unlocking the right ingredients for a successful transformation or contributing to a spiral down to failure.
3. Leadership Skills – Adapting and nurturing the necessary leadership skills: Many times the key difference between successful and failed transformations is due the actions of leaders. Leaders who are skilled in reading human emotion, using empathy, listen intently and open to everyone’s opinion are able to align their leadership around the vision and be emotionally present and supportive, particularly when workers are struggling or resisting things.
4. Empower – Set clear responsibilities and be prepared for change: Transformations are not linear journeys. There are ups and downs, twists and turns. This is why it is so important for leaders to provide both structure and discipline, as well as the freedom to be creative, explore and innovate. Get people involved by co-creating and defining clear roles in the transformation. People need to feel a sense of agency and see that they are part of the solution, rather than being hit by forces beyond their control.
5. Collaborate & Connect: Good business leaders will also want to create a two-way dialogue and work with their workforce to define future ways of working. A quick way into this is to identify influencers across your business organisation to get a strong understanding of their current mood. Then business leaders need to understand what they need to do to keep things moving forward.
Virtually all business are faced by these twin challenges of reshaping and changing their organisations while still attracting and retaining key talent. As the external business environment is likely to remain turbulent, it is very likely that business organisations will be in a constant state of flux, change and transformation. Hence, how business leaders are able to deliver successful transformation will become a strategic differentiator. Those that successfully deliver transformation will push ahead of their competition. They however need to do so by retaining key talent by focusing and adequately addressing the concerns of the workforce and keeping the handling of such emotional journey at the centre of any strategic process.
Ultimately business leaders need to lead their organisation to a position of strength that will withstand present headwinds and lay the foundation to take advantage of future opportunities. Not doing so and believing that the boat cannot be rocked due to a tight labour market, is likely to leave your business organisation a spectator, as competitors breeze past you.