Leading Change Through Difficult Economics

Leading Change through Difficult Economics

Current economics is a powerful driver for change within our organizations.  Change because there’s a new direction, new governments, new economic realities and so on.  We know we have to change but what’s missing is how to manage the change effectively and quickly.

 The Rapid Developments in New Technologies is Propelling Change

The one thing we know about change is that it is constant and that technological advancements are driving accelerated rates of change for people. According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the 2016 World Economic Forum, “The speed of current breakthroughs (in technology) has no historical precedent.”

Impact on business

Global CEOs and senior business executives are finding it hard to keep up. In his conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives, Klaus Schwab explains that the underlying theme he hears is that, “The acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate; these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed.”

Today our organizations must ensure that its culture, work environment and work processes are meeting the constantly changing requirements of our customers. The senior leadership team develop their strategies and create the plan to ensure their strategic plan is successfully executed. This often creates change. As you know, change is constant and comes at us from many different sources.

No sooner do we manage an organizational or departmental change, there is another one; even though we may have just gotten over the impact of the last change. Our challenge as change leaders is to be adaptive and to also help employees become more adaptive.

This means immersing ourselves in each change and getting ahead of it; always trying to understand its purpose, the best process to manage the change and the expected outcomes of the change. Successful change leaders ensure they are always engaged in the change and supportive of others through the change. This sounds difficult but actually makes leading and managing the change much easier.

Does change have to be top down?

We often think that change must come from the top. We expect the leadership team to identify the required changes and then direct and lead the organization through the change. But this is a fallacy.

Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, finds most organizations tend to over manage; they don’t understand “the brilliance of knowing when to lay-off.” The notion that “change comes from the top,” is a fallacy “driven by ego”, the “cult of heroic management,” and the peculiarly American overemphasis on taking action. If organizations in fact depended on dramatic, top-down change, few would survive. Instead most organizations succeed because of the small change efforts that begin at the middle or bottom of the organization and are only belatedly recognized as successful by senior management.

How can we manage change more effectively?

First, recognize that change is a process and to manage it effectively we must follow the process. Second, everyone must be engaged in the change. This is the most over-looked piece of managing change especially during difficult economics when employees are already feeling stressed over the possible impact of change. Last, understand that the change process isn’t complex but it is a journey.

How long does it take to go through the Change Process?

Waiting for the entire strategy for change to be fully developed and approved before moving forward is similar to the pioneers waiting for the West to be mapped before any of them took another step forward.

An Accelerated Change Process

1. Review the Past

Change is managed more successfully when all employees, at all levels, are engaged in the process. Start this process by holding employee engagement sessions.  These sessions, usually led by a skilled facilitator, bring employees together in a “safe” environment where they are given an opportunity to “vent” and talk about the past. This includes all the things they liked and didn’t like about the way in which past changes have been handled.

The change facilitator encourages employees to think about their past experiences with change. Their questions will include:

  • How was the change managed; well or poorly?
  • How were they engaged in the change?
  • How did the change affect them and others?

The change facilitator will then ask them, “If they were in control, how would they have managed those changes?” The outcome of this discussion will be a list of what is necessary to make this change happen successfully.

Employees usually leave these meetings feeling that for the first time they were “listened to” and that because of this engagement process, it is likely that their ideas will be used in the management of this change.Identify Organizational Change Readiness

2. Identify Organizational Change Readiness

The readiness of employees to engage in this change is directly related to the organization’s culture. If employees believe that change is something to be feared and avoided, then their reaction to this change will be reactive and haphazard. If employees believe that all change is driven by the leadership then they will seldom support this change. However, if employees believe that change is worthwhile and everyone’s responsibility; then this change will be managed with relative ease. The employee engagement sessions help them recognize that change is everyone’s responsibility.

The fastest way to identify organizational change readiness is to have all levels of employees complete a change readiness assessment. This on-line tool will:

  • Gauge the readiness of employees for change.
  • Clarify what will characterize the organization’s “ideal” culture.
  • Define the actions necessary to ensure that employees will support the changes.
  • Identify how the organizational culture supports change.

3.  Create the Future

This is the creative part of the change process. Create a “change steering committee” comprised of various levels and departments in the organization. They will review the change readiness assessment and the employee engagement session outcomes and then create a vision of what the future will look like after this change has been successfully implemented.

4.  Close the Gap

The change steering committee will close the gap between the present and the “ideal future” as defined in their vision. These change strategies will become the guide towards realizing the change vision, taking the organization from its present state into the future. It will translate the vision of what the organization is trying to become in the employee’s and customer’s eyes.

5.  Launch the Change Initiative and Measure Progress

The change steering committee will now be ready to create the actions which will ensure the change strategies are successfully realized. The employees get re-engaged during this stage through employee sub-committees. These employee sub-committees will review their assigned change strategy and expand on the actions they will take to execute on their change strategy. Each committee will report to a member of the steering committee on their progress.

Engaging employees, through these sub-committees, gives them ownership and responsibility for the success in the management of the change. It is faster and more effective than traditional methods of change management, especially in these changing economics where time is essential.


Leading change through difficult economics is challenging and requires an accelerated change process that is time sensitive; one that engages employees and creates a culture that is accepting and embracing of change.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca