Six Leadership Lessons for Managing Through Change Initiatives

Last Sunday, I had the roof of my house replaced (thanks to hailstorms in Texas). Although I felt prepared in advance, my teenagers experienced this very differently and this illustrates the difference between them … one set an alarm to be ready for their arrival and the other slept through the first six hours despite the insanely loud hammering and noise!

It made me stop and reflect on lessons that I’m taking into my work leading major change initiatives from clients, which include:

  • Changes Ahead Sign With Rainbow BackgroundScope things out effectively before you start. Knowing how long your change effort is going to take, monitoring organizational/environmental conditions and defining your business case are incredibly critical to the viability and sustainability of your change effort.
  • Wait for conditions to be right but not perfect. We waited several months before our roof repair work because of ongoing rain … until we were 75% sure that we weren’t going to have rain, the project couldn’t even start. The lesson for leaders is to ensure your executive and sustaining sponsors are lined up, budgets are in place and scope is finalized.
  • Bring in the right crew for the job. Our goal was to knock out the work in one day, so bringing in the right number of resources to finish on time was critical. This has to be driven based on your business objectives; focus on obtaining the right resources based on skills, knowledge and bandwidth or your project is doomed to fail from the beginning. This is the #1 issue that plagues almost every change project I’ve been involved with for over 20 years.
  • Have a plan and a contingency plan for backup. Plan to enough detail based on what you know to ensure that those unexpected factors don’t derail you. There will be many things you can’t anticipate and a contingency should be non-negotiable if at all possible.
  • Plan to refuel along the way. My crew brought tons of water (Texas heat!) and took a total, scheduled break for lunch. In my experience, it’s critical for leaders to consider how to “refuel” people along the way by encouraging breaks (vacation or short-term time away to focus on other priorities) as well as recognizing and rewarding people to shore up their commitment to the project as well.
  • Warn the neighbors. I’m sure my neighbors would have been furious if they hadn’t been aware that hammering was going to start at 6 a.m. on a Sunday! Warn your sponsors, stakeholders and teams about the disruption that change will cause. Expect to hit bumps and reassure people that the achievement of objectives will be worth it in the end, despite the pain that people experience when going through change.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sbPResults.