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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Leading Through Change - The Culture

I want to start by saying “Leading Through Change” is the exact title of John Maxwell’s 2-part podcast series on being a leader through change, and everything I’m going to talk about today comes from that podcast series. Why am I repeating what has already been said? Because the content is brilliant! In my last video, I talked about adding value, and if you want to be a leader or are a leader, John Maxwell will add value to your professional life. If you already know him, this is a reminder to re-connect with his many books and podcasts. And if you don’t this is the very smallest sampling of the leadership greatness he gives the world.

I am involved right now in merging two companies, and the merger doubled everything about these companies. The people at both companies are handling it extremely well, and I chalk that up to the culture that had already been formed – cultures at each company that embraced growth, professional expansion, personal improvement, and absolute respect. Change is far more difficult at companies without those cultures.

So what does Dr. Maxwell say about how to cultivate a company culture that responds well to change? First, foster and promote people who show a natural inclination for change. What does such a person look like?

  • They do not try to protect their own territory

  • They are committed to the big picture over their turf

  • They possess a personal sense of security and self-worth

  • They demonstrate passion, energy, and stamina

  • They are independent thinkers who are willing to verbalize what they really think and feel

  • They possess the resilience to make mid-course corrections and to get back up after setbacks

The second factor in cultivating a company culture that responds well to change is to acknowledge that loss is the first step toward progress. As you can imagine, the fear of loss is exactly what scares people about change, and that fear is the most important thing to combat. How do you do that?

  • Identify who is losing what – almost all people perceive change as loss

  • Accept the reality and importance of the subjective losses

  • Acknowledge the losses openly and sympathetically

  • Remember that when anxiety rises, motivation falls

I really want to hone in on the subjective loss. An example from this merger is that fully-functioning, productive departments at two companies will need to integrate. From a high level, I see this integration as a huge opportunity to take Best Practices from each company to take us from 2 great companies to 1 phenomenal company. But you could also see the perspective that you have people in these departments who have helped develop very good processes, they know these processes and how to complete their tasks. I see at least two losses here: the loss of stability because now they might have to do something different and they like the current way. And the loss of feeling competent because they have to learn something new. In this scenario, each Manager’s job would be to create stability by getting new processes documented extremely well and to give words of affirmation to their people that they are competent and doing a great job with the transition.

The podcast described 6 more factors in cultivating a company culture that responds well to change, but I’m going to share just 2 of them. So the third factor I’ll discuss is: give people permission to make mistakes. This goes back to the competency part. People will likely already be afraid of failure and that they might get replaced. Mistakes happen; be gracious about them.

Finally, reward individuals who think out of the box and can implement change. I’m surprised this was lumped into one item because it kind of describes two different people. There are people on your team who have great ideas. And there are people on your team who can turn ideas into reality. These are not always the same people, but I promise you you need them both. You do not want yourself or the leadership team to be the only people “allowed” to come up with ideas because your future is about to get real stale real quick. You also don’t have the time to invest in implementing changes. If you don’t foster people to show off their abilities in making change happen, your growth will be slow.

That was a whirlwind! We’ll link to the podcasts below, and next time we’ll talk about the levels or stages of change. Until then, go forth and find a new perspective on anything that isn’t serving you!

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