Through processes of organisational change, there is a lot to do, a lot that can go wrong, and something always does.
The only way to handle it is to just keep going, making the necessary adjustments as you proceed. However, there are some ways I have seen that smooth the waters on the way through.
Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more. When you are sick to death of the message, it is probably just getting through, just starting to resonate, so long as your actions are consistent with the message.
Be transparent. You need the trust of the employees during a period of rapid and often unpleasant change, and you cannot hide anything. If you try, when it gets out, you will lose the trust so necessary to enable the changes. When people believe their views have been taken into account, even when they do not agree with the outcome, they are more likely to be prepared to accept it than when a decision they do not like is just foisted on them. Be prepared to share everything, particularly data, even if it is ambiguous or not necessarily as you would like, the fact that you are prepared to share will go far. Besides, you rarely win an argument by telling people what you think, you have to show them the data, and why the conclusions are based on the data.
Stories have an important place. True leaders are at heart storytellers. We all come to understand complex questions from narratives and metaphors, and the stories provide the platform from which we learn. However, there are also some traps here. You have to know when to shut up, when to let the audience absorb and process the stories you are telling them, and every word counts. Never be seen as anything other than 100% up front, and always ensure that your actions are consistent with the narrative.
Remove the trappings of position. Every person is equal, and has an equal right to have an opinion, and express it. Good leaders quietly ensure that the quiet ones get an equal chance to express their views. When a great leader expresses their views, it is as an equal in the conversation, not as the boss. It is also the leader’s responsibility to ensure that others in the organisation structure also follow this no trappings rule. It follows that in these circumstances, you may know the answer to a question being discussed, but it is often useful to keep it to yourself, and continue listening. When they come to the same conclusion, they will be more committed to it than if you had proclaimed it, and if the conversation comes to a different conclusion, as the boss at another time, you still has the power of the position, but due process has been observed.
Strategies and tactics work together. They are not mutually exclusive, and you do need both. People are all different, they think, act, and work differently, which is why teams are better at developing and implementing both strategies and their supporting tactics. Small teams are better than large ones, and the make-up of the teams is crucial to their success, so do not leave it to chance. Make sure you have diversity of styles and skills on the teams, ensure the team is collectively responsible for the outcomes, and the way things get done.
Respect Vilfredo Pareto and his rule. Always focus on the 20% that will deliver the 80%. When you have done those big things progressively, you can do the others, but letting the not so important but urgent crap that will not in the end make much difference consume time is not smart.
Decide and do. When there are difficult decisions to be made, make them, and implement quickly. The uncertainty of thinking something unpleasant may be about to happen is far worse than the sure knowledge that something unpleasant just happened. When it is organisational structural change, this is absolutely the case. When it involves redundancy, you have to be prepared to deal with the ‘survivor syndrome’ that can be challenging but is helped by the speed, fairness and transparency you have already exhibited.
Hire slowly, fire fast. Often we get this the wrong way around, and hire because we have an urgent need, then find ourselves with the wrong person, and a problem. Not only should you take your time, but you should when possible involve others in the hiring decision. This is not an abrogation of responsibility, but a recognition that the person being hired has to work harmoniously in a group. Taking the time to find the really best people, not just the most technically qualified, but the one that exhibits the passion and curiosity that are the foundation requirements in this challenging world will pay big dividends. Along the same lines, when an existing employee exhibits behaviour you do not want, irrespective of how superficially important they may be, get rid of them. The team when working well gets more done than any individual, and a toxic individual has the ability to destroy the performance of those around them.
Be prepared to be wrong. This is again a function of the due process, but the leader does not ever know all the answers, and if you think you do, you have just made the biggest mistake possible. Giving others the authority to be wrong, and learn from the mistakes is as important as learning yourself
Yes. This is a powerful word, spread it, have a culture of yes, getting things done, making decisions and being transparently accountable for them, without fear is a powerful culture to be developing. Recognise that many decisions are based on judgement as well as data, and judgement only comes with experience, which must be earned.
Never forget the customer. They are after all, why this us all happening. Jeff Bezos famously ensures that there is a spare chair in every meeting at Amazon, as a constant reminder that they are there to serve the needs of that invisible customer.
Encouraging and nurturing change is amongst the hardest things a leader has to do, and perhaps the easiest to put off, until the day it can be put off no longer. Then is it often too late, and is always harder than it would have been yesterday.