In an era defined by disruption and rapid transformation, effective leaders have mastered the art of navigating and leading through change. They create continuity and resilience in an unpredictable and often chaotic environment.
Recent WTW research, Leading in an age of disruption, highlights that effective leaders not only adapt to change but also thrive on it, resulting in more than two-and-a-half times greater revenue growth over a three-year period compared to organizations with below-average change effectiveness.
They take action across the following five areas:
Global disruption has become a constant for leaders. Challenges posed by events such as war, pandemic, economic volatility, labor disputes and rapid technological innovation have forced organizations to be more agile and adaptive.
The most fundamental question for employees during change frequently is, "Why?" Effective change leaders maintain a relentless focus on the purpose of change and innovation. They excel in communicating "why" and articulating envisioned outcomes. They understand the importance of positioning senior leaders to manage change, setting a compelling vision for the future. They acknowledge the significance of individual purpose for employees, fostering an environment where employees can align their personal values and aspirations with the company's mission.
By helping individuals see how their work aligns with their personal goals and values, organizations create a sense of ownership and motivation among employees. By mobilizing employees, they create an organizational community committed to making a positive impact, driving innovation and embracing a shared sense of purpose that sets them apart.
Employees require a clear understanding of how change and innovation will be implemented. When answering, “How will we change?”, effective leaders cultivate trust between the employer and employees by communicating clearly, transparently, honestly and authentically – highlighting how each person will be affected, how they can contribute to the overall goal, what actions they need to take and how the change will personally affect them.
While communicating the benefits and opportunities of changes, they acknowledge the associated challenges and risks. Transparency around advantages and disadvantages strengthens the sense of community. Effective leaders also listen to their employees to gain insight into what they value and what motivates them. When employees have a voice in decisions and an opportunity to be heard, they are more likely to support and embrace change.
To answer employees’ questions regarding, “What’s in it for me?”, effective leaders ensure their people programs are well-designed and structured, and provide the necessary resources, training and rewards for a positive employee experience. They emphasize the importance of offering early opportunities for employees and managers to succeed, bolstering confidence in the organization's capability and focusing on effective management. This positive reinforcement boosts employee confidence during the change process.
Programs that cover pay, health and retirement benefits, wellbeing and career development also drive more successful outcomes. By recognizing employees through both monetary and non-monetary awards, leaders strengthen their employees’ commitment to the organization and foster a culture of change and innovation, further preparing the organization to be resilient and to persist through obstacles and unexpected events.
To make changes stick, effective leaders embed change and innovation into the organization's culture and daily work routines, as we highlighted in The business case for change management when driving organization transformation. Effective leaders address the question, “How will change make us better?" by ingraining innovation as a lasting part of the organization.
Effective leaders are adept at organizing work processes to respond swiftly and efficiently to changing market dynamics. They know employees need to be empowered to make decisions and to respond effectively to changes as they arise.
Effective leaders review decision-making hierarchies and empower authority at lower levels. They provide employees with the use cases, tools and resources they need to make decisions effectively and rapidly. They cultivate a culture of drive and continuous improvement that leads to proactive adaptation to market shifts. Such organizational agility becomes a competitive differentiator in dynamic environments.
Effective leaders tackle risk associated with change and innovation head-on. They conduct comprehensive risk assessments in order to consider and mitigate exposed and unexposed risks, including disruptive innovations, regulatory changes, market fluctuations and more.
Unexposed risks cause confusion, doubt and disengagement, and they can erode employee trust, cause reactive decision making and detract from positive culture and employee experience. Effective leaders develop change management strategies that identify, assess and mitigate potential risks and obstacles.
When effective leaders make mistakes, they take ownership and move forward. Data-driven risk reviews and feedback loops help identify emerging risks so they can be addressed promptly, preventing larger issues from arising. These reviews and feedback loops enable leaders to make informed decisions and refine their approach and interventions as needed.
In a world of relentless disruption, effective leaders and forward-thinking organizations recognize that change management is not merely a survival tool but an essential key to thriving and growing.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes on October 19, 2023.