Developing Change-Agile Leaders: What Behaviors to Look For

In a fast-moving, technology-forward society, change is a constant. Companies develop (Facebook and Google) and die (Sears, Toys R Us). They merge or are purchased and become entirely new entities. Everyone working for them has to deal with the change.

Organizational Change Often Fails

Business leadership needs to manage change in organizations. Many organizational changes are hard-fought, no matter how good the business strategy looks from the C-suite. It is not uncommon for a certain percentage of managers and employees to fight change very hard, with near-constant reversion to the old ways, the old culture, and perhaps even the old institution.

Managing their resistance can be challenging, and failure to manage it effectively is one of the chief reasons why mergers fail.

But it’s far from the only reason. A recent Harvard Business Review points out that, although the official failure rate of mergers and acquisitions is 50% (already very high), it may in actuality be as high as 90%.

Failures can also be driven by insufficient planning, failure to seize opportunities (or the inability to seize them), and failure to arrest problems before they cause a failure.

And that’s not even counting lesser failures, like not realizing projected synergies and the like.

Change management requires the ability to see opportunities and avoid mistakes.

How to Promote Change Agility

What’s the best thing organizations that want to succeed in changing can do?

They need managers who can productively lead change, which includes promoting opportunities, meeting resistance positively and overcoming it, and avoiding pitfalls.

How do you find or develop leaders who can be agile in the face of change, leaders who can be flexible and can stick to the course when needed?

According to the HBR, change-agile leaders need to develop and exhibit 5 key behaviors.

First, they need to have the ability to share a clear, compelling purpose. People move according to stories that they understand. If they have to change tools, objectives, processes, and even a culture, they can — as long as they understand why, and can see that the changes are working toward something.

Second, they need to see opportunities in the future. Will the change lead to better products, more sales, enhanced market share? Even if the organization isn’t there yet, the change-agile leader needs to be able to visualize it.

Third, change-agile leaders need to be able to find out what areas aren’t functioning. If something isn’t working, they need to create the kind of environment where they will find out/be told/have frequent communication. It’s not a role for people who need yes-people.

Fourth, agile-change leaders should encourage risk-taking and experimentation, to a degree. Change creates situations where risk-taking and experimentation can take advantage of those opportunities, and avoid troubles. Just do it prudently.

The fifth key behavior needed is the ability to create partnerships throughout the organization. In periods of change, official partnerships aren’t likely to be the only ones needed. Partnerships across divisions, departments, and even geographic locales can all help.

Change agility is a good thing now, and likely to be even more of a good thing going forward. Looking for leaders who can have, and exhibit these 5 behaviors will help organizations change and grow.

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