How to motivate teams through 3 big types of organizational change

Specific changes call for specific leadership behaviors – to soothe fears and sustain excitement throughout the long process
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Companies need to adapt to keep a competitive edge, but few organizations can successfully maneuver the complexities of large-scale change initiatives. The need for enhanced digital solutions, company expansion, and new customer service models all push companies to focus on changing priorities and capabilities.

Yet failed change initiatives are damaging to company morale; extending or restarting change programs can cause fatigue and frustration among employees, leaving them less inclined to participate for the long haul.

[ Want to make better decisions? Read 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide, by Sanjay Malhotra. ]

I’ve learned that across various types of transformation, leadership needs to focus its attention on creating commitment and excitement for change at all company levels. Employee support is a central differentiator between the success of a change initiative and its collapse, and the major challenge lies in sustaining employee energy throughout the entire change process.

Choosing the right leadership behavior 

Driving change requires the ability to transition between leadership styles.

Succeeding in change requires the right leadership style. I will go a step further and say driving change requires the ability to transition between leadership styles to fit multiple situations and address employee concerns.

Organizational change typically involves areas like structure, technology, processes, culture, products, and services: Each type of change involves multiple lines of reporting across all levels of the organization and poses varying complexities for employees and challenges for leaders. For this reason, specific types of change call for specific leadership behaviors to alleviate resistance and bring about excitement and support.

Let’s explore the success factors of three prevalent types of organizational change: digitization, company expansion, and new service models, as well as the leadership behaviors responsible for achieving positive outcomes.

1. Implementing a new technology related to digital transformation

For most companies, digital transformation is currently the main concern for business, and the greatest challenge in implementing new technology is the scale and scope of the project. If you underestimate the scope of digital transformation, you run the risk of encountering budget and timeline extensions, which will exhaust your employees and ultimately cause you to lose their willingness to cooperate.

Success factor: Emphasize agile implementation

The success of digital change relies on creating an “implement-test-iterate” cycle that allows you to validate how the new technology will impact culture in areas of employee efficiency and business sustainability.

For leaders, this means prioritizing agility and inserting a lean implementation philosophy at the core of the change program. If you don’t plan to execute implementation in a controlled environment where you can test the impact of change, you increase the likeliness of legacy functions enticing employees back into what they find comfortable.

[ Have your results been disappointing? Read our related article: Digital transformation: 5 ways organizations fail. ]

2. Company expansion

Large-scale transformations like opening new offices and mergers and acquisitions prove incredibly complex. These changes create significant cultural shifts and cause a great deal of uncertainty for employees. It’s natural for employees to resist uncertainty, so to reduce the anxiety, leaders need to communicate effectively and often.

Success factor: Create a compelling change story

Clear communication is essential in company expansions. A useful tactic for taking the edge off is to create a compelling change story employees can stand behind.

As leaders, we need to translate growth goals into the intrinsic motivators of our employees.

Emotional intelligence helps create a change narrative because often what inspires us as leaders is not always the same as what motivates our employees. As leaders, we need to translate growth goals into the intrinsic motivators of our employees, and then recognize and reward team innovation and individual growth towards the common goal.

3. A new service model

To keep up with the market, companies need to introduce new services and products; however, employees are going to be hesitant to go against what they’ve always done. Prioritization, accountability, and clear success metrics and milestones to celebrate are essential for introducing a new service.

Success factor: Create ownership in the process

Creating a well-defined strategy and roadmap is essential for introducing a new service, but succeeding in change requires more than putting a plan in place. Leadership needs to take that strategy and spark a willingness to participate across the entire organization.

To accomplish this, leaders need to identify and match employee expertise to the appropriate areas of implementation to generate a personal sense of ownership for specific targets, then coach employees to create a positive influence on individual and team success. Not only will this maximize employees’ strengths, but it will help them feel more empowered, committed, and accountable for the success of the change program.

Know your limits

Leaders play an influential role in implementing and managing change. Their approach makes the difference between a successful change program and one that fails. Leaders must recognize the team as a whole and inspire them to perform at their best and stay future-oriented.

Some of the most successful leaders realize when their breadth of knowledge is no longer enough to bring about the change necessary to see the company through to the next phase of development and bring in the right people to align change initiatives towards sustainable performance over time.

[ Why is adaptability the new leadership power skill? Read our new report from HBR Analytic Services: Transformation Masters: The New Rules of CIO Leadership. ]

As CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, Sanjay Malhotra has built an agile team of mobile experts who have created award-winning solutions for media, telecom, fintech, healthcare, mobile payments, and QSRs.