Keeping all doors open

As the pace of change inside global organizations picks up, we need leaders who can roll with the punches – and still keep their balance and sense of direction.

Accepting and embracing real personal change requires openness and a willingness to transform. To stay sharp, leaders need to learn on the fly when facing new problems.

Get yourself out of the rut and daily routines that could keep you bogged down. Use a business trip or meeting in a new location to do something completely different.

I was once involved in developing a new corporate brochure which aimed at giving customers a more comprehensive view of our brand. The agency had gotten stuck in details and the whole project lingered for months without any progress.

Before visiting the agency with the project manager, we walked into an art museum with modern sculptures. I was taken aback by several sculptures of children scaled up to adult size. They looked weird with puffy cheeks, almost scary. This was sixteen years ago. I cannot recall the name of the artist, but I still remember a tall man with the face of a child.

 Garden door

Leaving our normal points of references behind helped us to get unstuck. After brainstorming with the vendor for half an hour, we exchanged half of the images and I could give them a green light to print.

In the middle of change, everything is chaotic. There is a full range of wild and crazy emotions and physical reactions. Nothing is ordinary any longer.

That’s when you need to step out and take a weekend retreat or check into a spa. Leave your mobile phone and agenda behind. Focus on what is only important but not urgent.

Connect deeply with your family or old friends. Spend time reflecting and recharging your batteries. Read a novel that is very different from your usual choice, and listen to some classical music that will help you take it down a notch.

Open up your mind to consider different options without bias. Identify several alternatives or scenarios for going forward. Keep all your doors and windows open.

In the drivers’ seat

“Real change is always up close and personal. Accepting and embracing this change requires openness and a willingness to transform.”
Our first reactions to change or dramatic news are denial and resistance. This is often followed by anxiety, apathy and grief. After a while we begin to explore the possibilities, and consider accepting the change.
When dealing with change from the top, leaders often fail to realize that they are ahead of this reaction curve to change.

“Imagine that senior management is sitting in the driver’s seat of a train,” says Sue Dewhurst, internal communications consultant. “They have control over where the train goes, how fast it goes and whether or where it stops. When they describe their vision of change, it’s extremely clear to them because they can see the way ahead out of the driver’s window.

Leaders are driving the train of change

The people most affected by the change are in the tenth carriage of the train, where life feels very different. They have no control over where the train goes, and they can’t see the same view of what’s ahead as the driver can, and they are much further back on the tracks.”

I recall one change project where a dramatic reorganization was announced – and eighteen months later employees in the US were still waiting to learn the details of how this would affect their jobs and daily work. In that case senior management was 18 months ahead in the change process while their people were still waiting on the platform.

For communicative leaders it is also crucial to realize that awareness of the need for change doesn’t automatically translate into a commitment to turn change into new opportunities. There’s no easy shortcut between announcement and acceptance.

Awareness must first turn into a desire to support and participate in the change. It can take hours, days or even weeks to reach that level of acceptance.

Then you still need to learn how and what to change. What behaviors are appropriate? How have roles and processes changed? What can I do to make a difference? Armed with that knowledge you will develop the ability to implement new skills and behaviors.