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The road is full of failed transformation programs: Leaders define objectives, design a project plan, agree on KPIs, and recruit the right people. Yet the failure rate in transformations is far too high and one that organisations can't afford.
For a transformation to be successful, leaders should approach it in ways designed to mitigate emotional harm to employees.
Research shows that leaders and workers start transformations excited and optimistic. But as the transformations get rolling, they all show reduced positive emotions and increased negative emotions.
All transformations are difficult, and confidence is bound to dip. Yet this is key to the transformation's success. The heightened stress raises performance, and leaders who learn from their emotions use those lessons in their transformation. This maintains high performance.
Leaders must create psychological safety and mechanisms for all voices to be heard. Without psychological safety and support, workers feel anxious and overworked. Moreover, workers lose faith in transformation when there's no compelling vision, visible progress, or practical and emotional support from leaders.
When leaders themselves lose faith in the transformation, they may become distant, look to reduce damage to their own brands and jump to different activities.
Failed transformation can lead to employees suffering emotional damage, losing confidence in leaders, and becoming sceptical of further attempts at transformation.
Ways to set transformation up for success by prioritising their employees' emotions.
Any transformation begins by recognising that the status quo is unsustainable. It means working on yourself first and starting a transformational emotional journey.
Understanding the unsustainability of the status quo means putting yourself as a leader in a separate place to see yourself, your company and from where you operate differently.
Embrace the unknown and adopt the humility required to challenge your mindsets and assumptions about your company, its current ways of working, the industry and what will result in success.
Embracing the unknown and adopting humility helps you to create a vision because you can see more clearly what needs to change and why.
You can then imagine how you might create value differently at a functional, product and service, or even entire business model level.
Transformation is both exciting and unsettling for employees. For example, they can't see how their skills will be relevant. Therefore, it is essential to address these emotions. Formal conversations will help them to work through their anxiety and fear of the unknown.
Yet, listening skills are just as important:
When executives begin a transformation, they will reach for a project plan that focuses on a rational understanding of how long it will take to deliver key activities. These plans are often overly ambitious and miss the critical listening component, which causes the process to slow down.
Conduct one-on-one listening exercises as well as in small groups and workshops to help leaders and employees understand their own purpose and how they are part of the bigger purpose.
Employees may find the reality of major shifts in KPIs, performance management, funding, and resources difficult. Their lack of belief in the transformation becomes real as they lose power, status and even their roles.
Losing people is inevitable in a successful transformation, but research shows that making practical decisions sooner enables people to move from one emotional state to another.
The old model of predictability, stability and hierarchy was the norm in many organisations. However, stakeholders demand a more "organic" organisation where continual transformation is the norm.
Enabling transformation requires giving employees the information and resources they need to develop and innovate in other directions.
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