February 14, 2017
How to Lead Change (Part 3)
We all know that change can bring painful challenges. Here are steps that insurers can take to stay on course.
Disruption in the market is threatening to isolate some insurers, keeping them on the outside of new opportunities. But many insurers are embracing the competitive pressures and shifting market boundaries to position themselves for growth. They are navigating their organizations through healthy changes as a part of an overall plan for transformation.
We all know that change will often bring some painful challenges. To help insurers anticipate some of those challenges, we have been looking at preparations and steps insurers can take to stay on course.
In our first blog in this series, we discussed the groundwork for leading change in your organization — with very practical advice on what leading change really involves. In our second blog, we looked at empowering change among the people involved in it. We discussed how change is personal and how insurers need to consider its impact down to an individual level.
In Part 3, we’re going to step into the middle of managing change. What challenges are you likely to encounter once you have started? Are there ways to keep the organization on course, foster engagement and improve the odds of transformational success? We’ll start by looking at the changes within the organization’s business framework.
Establish the right kind of foundation
Organizational change management is often driven by the insurer’s need to build a new business framework that will operate as a cohesive, integrated and flexible unit. That framework may include new technologies, processes and products, items that are nearly always in flux. So it is important to establish a foundation that you can build on so that you can adapt and change whenever market shifts happen without changing the essential structure of the core.
See also: How to Lead Change in an Organization
The foundation will be built to accept change as a fact of life within a dynamic marketplace. It will contain less rigidity and more resilience. It will prepare the organization to effectively handle quick course corrections when strategy shifts or the market changes — or even when teams uncover some detail they may not have envisioned at the outset.
Once this foundation is in place, it means that discovery and innovation can happen on the fly, course corrections are no big deal and ideas are much simpler to test.
Think of communication as a fabric
Because change plans may not be firmly fixed, and because change can be difficult for people to understand, frequent communication is crucial. It needs constant attention to keep people engaged. You can’t communicate too much.
However, when most leaders think of communication, they may tend to focus on formal communication, saying things like, “We are putting out a newsletter,” or “Every month we are holding a transformation update meeting.” These are good things, but they treat messages as broadcasts, with very little interactivity.
In the real world, the best change communication looks more like a fabric that is woven with equal parts formal and informal communication, as well as both message threads and listening threads. It deliberately overlaps in areas so that a blanket of acclimation and understanding will bring the corporate culture and individuals along at the proper pace, all while acknowledging their value and the importance of including their perspectives.
Formal communications — such as newsletters, e-mails and update meetings — ARE important. They are important for clarity. They act as signals regarding time and workload. They keep high-level messages in front of people, bringing the organization under a universal umbrella. Every effort should be made to communicate key messages through on-site meetings with executive leaders participating.
Informal communications are also vital. Planned or unplanned one-on-one conversations are potentially more effective than newsletters because they are two-way and you can guarantee that the message was delivered. You can also listen carefully to any concerns or feedback. Tailoring high-level messages to points of individual impact is crucial to maintaining engagement. It is also helpful for managers to keep a journal regarding some of their more detailed conversations for later reference.
What is important is that leaders and change agents think of communication, not as a supplemental component to the real work of transformation, but as a mission-critical part of any change effort.
Actively manage risk
We often hear within project methodologies that we are to expect some level of risk. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are to accept risk while sitting down, waiting and watching for the results of failure. The best way to treat risk is to actively manage it, and the most clear-cut methods for actively managing risk are to grade success and to catch errors quickly.
Here, we employ some tried-and-true philosophies that deserve a more detailed understanding.
Fast fail forward
There is a common misconception in the term fast fail forward that having failures is actually a good thing. In reality, immediate success without failure is ideal. Fast failing forward simply acknowledges that failures are a fact of life, so the best we can do is to identify them quickly, embrace them and then move forward or around them. If there is an issue, it should be dealt with. The faster it is dealt with, the better your chances are for success.
To identify problematic issues quickly, managers should time-base project milestones, saying, “In the next three months, we need to accomplish these five things.” After those items are accomplished or even while they are being accomplished, they should be measured. What is going right or wrong? Teams should provide feedback. If goals aren’t time-based, they can just keep rolling and aren’t likely to be measured. If some sort of feedback isn’t required, course corrections can’t be made. Projects with tight analysis, quick feedback and correction are unable to veer widely off course. Even if a transformation project is incredibly successful and if few issues are ever found, time-based milestones and measurements are valuable in the confidence that they can lend the team.
Foster open communication
The need for feedback returns us to the topic of communication because the wrong kind of feedback will simply damage and delay the process in ways that may be worse than ignoring the issues. Healthy feedback requires openness.
First, you, as a change leader, need to resolve to be open in communication. This doesn’t mean losing tact in conversation and unburdening your gripes or finger pointing, but it means acknowledging clear issues without a focus on blame. Issues are a common place for fires to start. Personalities ignite. Invisible walls go up. Politics burden forward progress.
Some personalities, for example, will fight against the failures while others will correctly understand that the struggle is against the issues that are at hand. If you guide everyone toward focusing on the issues, your teams will often unify behind the solutions instead of dividing and hiding behind roles and responsibilities. Meetings should be a place for open discussion, encouraging members to be open with each other and open with themselves and helpful in meeting issues head on.
See also: The 4 Secrets to Managing Change
An effective leader will model openness by admitting course errors or mistakes and even by acknowledging the assistance given by someone else to make course corrections. Your efforts and words will help build a culture of quick accountability and decisive issue resolution. Instead of apprehensive team members who think, “We really ought to do something about that,” you’ll have a group of observant change leaders who say, “I see an issue. Let’s deal with it right now.”
In my next blog series, we’ll take an in-depth look at why insurers need to consider customer experience as their primary motivator for modernization and change. I hope you’ll join me.