Four Key Insights for Change Leadership Success

Expectations are a critical part of success as a Change Leader … aligning stakeholders, team members, sponsors and customers to a goal, a process or a new way of doing things requires expertise on expectations management.

My hands-on discovery – I went scuba diving for the first time in June. We were in the Bahamas, and my significant other (an expert diver) encouraged me to sign up for the two-hour crash course and initial dive. Naively, I thought it would be a piece of cake; I’m a good swimmer, love the water, in decent shape, etc. As I took lessons in the pool with my awesome, cool Jamaican instructor, I was full of bravado. As I stepped off the boat, swaying back and forth in the swells and trying to keep my balance with 20 pounds of equipment on my back, I realized that I may not quite know what I was in for. Once in the water, I realized that it was only this tiny breathing apparatus keeping me alive for the next 45 minutes … and the panic set in. It was only after I was out of the water with a beverage in hand that I actually (retrospectively) enjoyed the experience.

Four key insights for change leadership success (I gleaned these from my diving experience):

  • Know what you’re signing up for. A good change leader lays out the good, the bad and the ugly … the time commitments, tough decisions to come and expected areas of frustration. The key is “no surprises” – helping clients understand what’s likely to be most challenging is key for a change leader.
  • Setting is easy, managing is hard. It’s easy to check the box and make sure you’ve identified and on-boarded and set stakeholders’ expectations. The key is to be relentless about managing them going forward. I’ve seen projects where leaders lose sponsorship and momentum from key stakeholders because they fail to keep them apprised on how the project is really going. Does the business case need to change? Will the system be less intuitive than we want? Does the timeline need to be extended to produce a quality result? Better to deliver the (bad) news early and reset expectations than trust in hope … or assume everyone’s tracking with the reality of the situation.
  • Sometimes the best events are non-events. A great way to gauge the effectiveness of a Steering Committee or Senior Leadership Forum is to watch what happens when key decisions are announced and the news is received as “no big deal”. In some client environments, success can be about vetting out the controversies before decisions are taken.
  • It can be good to NOT know what’s coming next. If I’d have known how tiring, scary and panic-inducing diving would be, I’d never have tried it. Sometimes it’s good to NOT hear how challenging that stretch role or new promotion might be – because we may be intimidated enough not to take it on.

Now it’s time for me to manage my own expectations about how quickly I can get back out there and go diving again …