6 Best Practice Tips on Leading Change

At the Co-operative Bank, both during the 1990’s and into the 21st century, we were continually involved in change both as an organisation, and within the legal services department. Here are some techniques we found useful in the change projects we were involved in or initiated.. Some examples were:

• Working with Senior colleagues on the development of the ethical business programme
• Developing a Supplier and Acquisition Management programme for all contracts, including guidelines and training
• Originated a cross functional Group Compliance Forum to bring together the business and compliance senior managers
• Developing and implementing S.L.A.’s for fast turnaround times for marketing material

1) Have a good reason for ‘change’. Instituting, leading, and managing change is extremely time consuming and a lot of hard work. It can take months/years to fundamentally alter the psyche of your team and your organisation.

As Machiavelli said in his book The Prince, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Basically change is risky as you are moving from the known to the unknown, and at any given time you can find yourself out on a limb without support from the organisation or your team. Your vision may be clear but the path may well be full of craters, blind spots, and unexpected curve balls.

If possible have one per year as otherwise all your team will see (and your internal clients) is lots of good ideas but no firm implementation, just superficial tinkering. Research has shown that out of the multiplicity of choices general counsel have for management there can be many more permutations. For example, are you involved in areas such as process mapping, talent management, service value analysis, exploiting technology and information systems? The list can be endless, so don’t be tempted into trying them all at once.

2) Involve everyone in the change direction. Being part of the initial process gives people a sense of involvement and ownership. It also energises the team, which you can harness to keep motivation and morale high.

If the change is being driven from above, then understanding the motivators and anticipated outcomes will help you keep get your people enthusiastic and willing to take part. If you and/or your team are driving the change project, commend yourselves as it is vital that every legal department continually try to innovate. This will also give you a chance to establish out their concerns and perceived obstacles. You should look to promote an attitude of self-sufficiency amongst people involved and provide them time to come up with their own solutions.

Do consult the business on the continuous improvements to their service and receive their commitment. Consider conducting short electronic surveys and discussion groups. It is imperative that you feed back all the results and when possible, address concerns raised even if there are no obvious solutions. Alternatively, seek peer support and advice as to how they are dealing with change challenges and whether you can incorporate their best practices in your own project. At the Co-operative Bank, senior managers often met to share knowledge gained here rather than leave colleagues to re-invent the wheel.

3) Believe in your change project with a passion that is infectious. Your people will look to you to see how committed you are to this and how much ‘wiggle’ room they have to resist (or even worse, paying lip service to the new order). Picture the projected outcome constantly and how proud/delighted everyone will be to pull it off. This part will consist of a lot of ‘hand holding’ with your people during the pilot scheme and the trial-and-error stage of learning what actually works in practice. You may need to provide guidance and/or training in how to manage change and understanding the new processes and values. ** Training is also a group activity and will assist in building teams that function well together in the new ways of working.

4) Lead from the front or put a respected person in charge of the process and/or the team responsible for the change. This person must be 100% behind this project (be one of your change champions) and have enough credibility to be able to deliver. During any change, around 10-30% of group will look forward to it and a similar number will be saying ‘over my dead body’. The majority will be the ‘wait and see who wins’ type. These are the people your change champions need to win over before tackling the resisters in your team. You could use these latter ones in the planning and preparation stages to flush out obstacles where appropriate, but you will need to balance their negativity so that it does not become the prevailing emotion of the team.

If you have a large department, create a transition management team to plan, anticipate, trouble-shoot, coordinate, and direct the efforts required to deliver the desired change. Ensure that it contains a cross section of staff. Even if you have a small team, it is worthwhile identifying and supporting those team members who will be working on this.

5) Bring in outside help for all or part of the process, but retain responsibility for the output. Delegation to the internal team or external ‘wise counsel’ is a critical leadership skill that must not be confused with shirking responsibilities. Your team will be watching you closely, especially those diametrically opposed to change, for any ambiguity here.

Deploying coaches*, whether internally or externally, during the whole process will really provide a support mechanism without parallel. Change fundamentally scares significantly more people than it excites.

6) Acknowledge and reward people for the struggles and sacrifices as well as the achievements made by your staff, especially the ones in the change projects. Then establish symbols of change- metrics for measuring the new learning and successes(e.g. new logos, new positions, and new systems). Don’t forget those important celebratory events to reward hard work and success!

At the Co-operative Bank, we always held a party to celebrate the end of any project, as well as provide remembrance tokens. For example, after one project, called Lion, we all received a cute lion at the end. Decide what will resonate with your organisation. Occasionally, we also chose to make bonus payments made.

If you have any questions about this blog, please email me

*For members of the GCR Club, there is a complimentary email-coaching programme to support you and/or your team on putting into action the suggestions contained in this blog. Otherwise there are coaching packages available for the person leading the change and/or the full team.