Organizational change is one of the main topics of today’s business world. With everything from technology, markets and labor distribution transforming from quarter to quarter, leaders are looking for the optimal ways to deal with all of this and keep the companies not only afloat but also profitable. It is in this context that one particular verb has established itself as the proper semantic item for describing what dealing with change in the modern organization feels like – to navigate.
Apart from the obvious analogy between a stormy sea and the modern corporate environment, there is the historical aspect of navigation that makes it apt for comparison to modern day change management. People have been sailing the seas with more or less success for thousands of years.
Navigating rapid change in the organization
Magellan was a navigator. So was Columbus. What they shared in common with the current state of the business world is uncertainty.
The captains of old had goals and purposes, one or more plans about how to reach them and the awareness that they had no idea of how complicated things might become and how they will turn out in the end.
While today’s business leaders don’t run the risk of mutiny, scurvy or the encounter with ruthless pirates, navigating change can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips on how to tackle it.
Don’t be still
One of the most common mistakes done when change is upon an organization is to take enormous amounts of time to run analysis, come up with various routes to be followed and mainly hope that it will all blow over and none of the above will be necessary. While it is impossible to know for sure which developments will have a long-term effect on the organization and which will prove simple fads, not dealing with them at all is not the answer.
The definition of navigation is “the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.” One has to move in order to navigate so even though the whole thing should not be chaotic, it should be hasty.
Agility is one of the most sought after competencies (if not qualities) because it is what makes the difference between a great leader and a mediocre one. Sitting still in moving waters will only lead to the ship becoming adrift with literally no indication of where it will end and whether it will sink or not. When adjusting the course is needed, the modern leader should do so quickly and without hesitation.
Read more: 3 Crucial steps in ensuring business agility
Prepare for rough seas
While it is always advisable to have the best scenario in mind and work arduously towards that, a contingency plan is never a bad idea. The insurance industry has been doing so well for so long because people have understood it’s best to be prepared and have nothing bad happens than rely on your luck and your prayers and have something occur.
Since neither a fleet nor a solitary ship can be handled by a single person, having some crew members trained and prepared to act as a sort of crisis cell whenever or if it’s necessary is a wise thing to do. It’s one thing to say “ I did not see that coming” and then set in motion a generalized procedure for dealing with unexpected events and another to say “um…oh…ugh…everyone remain calm”.
Change or even in-depth transformation can oftentimes turn out to be beneficial even if initially it had scared everybody. Apart from having a back-up plan prepared, it’s also compulsory to promote a change-embracing culture within the organization. Having the best people in charge and the best pre-thought paths for getting out of a hairy situation or into a desired one will be futile if the great majority of employees won’t get on board.
Great leaders are those who are trusted and have the power to inspire. Giving false information, making promises that are never kept and caring more for appearances rather than reality are sure ways to sink. Failure to communicate properly ends in endless rumors and an overall cynical organizational culture.
People will jump ship at the first sign that something is wrong and for good reason – as long as the formal leaders kept saying everything was going smoothly and on schedule it means they were genuinely unaware and are unprepared or that they had been lying. In either case, they can’t be trusted.
The right approach is to strive and include everyone in the change management process by giving them an opportunity to have their say and implement changes within the business. It doesn’t mean that sensitive information has to be shared widely, just that enough of it to make employees feel like they are in the loop.
When people feel that they and their opinions matter, they are far more likely to not only stay on board but row with all their might in the direction that their leader indicated. Since everyone’s A game is expected when the need to face high tides arises, it’s only fair to give them all a head’s up about the real state of things.
All in all
Navigating rapid change in today’s stormy business waters can be tricky. Yet the ones who will manage to alter the course and still make the destination (or reach a better one – Columbus certainly did!) will surely reap the rewards of gentle shores and unimaginable treasures.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.