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Navigating Change: How to Lead in Times of Transformation

Research shows that 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance. While challenging to navigate, this obstacle can be overcome with an intentional approach to leadership.

To unpack how to lead through change, we invited Wissam Adib, Executive Coach and Organizational Behavior Expert, to join us for a webinar during week 3 of the 2023 Cosmic Conference all about on transformation.

Wissam, who was also a speaker at our opening event, shared his perspective on how leaders can anticipate and support employees through the emotional journey that comes with significant organizational change. Wissam, like our team at Cosmic Centaurs, deeply understands the nuances of change, particularly the toll it takes on workforce morale, and engagement. Across our consulting and training missions, we meet leaders and employees who grapple with the discomfort of change, and work with them closely throughout the process until the transformation journey results in a new way of working.

The Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Change Curve Framework

One tool we love to share with leaders is The Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Change Curve Framework. It provides a valuable lens through which to view the emotional and psychological journey individuals undertake during organizational change.

Wissam's insights from the session added a layer of depth to this framework, offering a comprehensive understanding of how leaders can navigate each phase effectively. In this article, there is more about each of the 3 phases of change and Wissam’s advice on how to lead through them:

Phase 1: Unfreeze

The unfreeze phase marks the initial stage of the change process. Typically, change is officially communicated to employees by their leaders and employees react with shock, denial, and frustration.

Wissam refers to this phase as ‘new beginnings’. To him it is about embracing change by releasing attachment to the past, creating space for a fresh start and renewed possibilities.

How should leaders navigate this phase?

Acknowledge Loss: Leaders must recognize and empathize with the sense of loss employees experience.

Expect Overreaction: Anticipate emotional responses, understanding that people may appear more upset than the situation logically warrants.

Over-communicate: Consistent, empathetic communication is essential, providing reassurance and clarity without overwhelming employees.

Treat Past with Respect: Acknowledge the value of the past, avoiding a binary perspective of good and bad.

Mark the Ending: Symbolically acknowledge the ending, allowing closure and readiness for the next phase.

"Acknowledge that there's an ending taking place, respect that period before you move on,"said Wissam.

Phase 2 - Change

The change phase involves the actual implementation of new processes and practices, during which individuals adapt to the new reality, learn new skills, and navigate the challenges associated with the transformation, often experiencing a mix of resistance and engagement. Initially, they may begin to feel really down and depressed, before slowly coming around to embrace the change. They invest energy in learning new skills and adapting.

“This is the Neutral Zone,” said Wissam. “It is a transitional phase marked by uncertainty, experimentation, and innovation, as the organization navigates the gap between the old and the emerging new state,” he continued.

How should leaders navigate this phase?

Create Scaffolding: Establish temporary support structures, such as transition committees and change champions, to guide employees.

Focus on the short-Term: Set short-term goals and reduce expectations, allowing room for experimentation and adaptation.

Embrace Uncertainty: Encourage risk-taking, tolerate mistakes, and foster a culture of innovation.

Build Capability: Identify necessary skills and provide training to enhance employees' confidence and competence in the new environment.

"This is the time where you really want to be empowering people and asking them to think differently about a lot of the things that they're doing, to try to innovate, try different things."

Phase 3 - Refreeze

In the refreeze phase, individuals solidify their acceptance of the new changes, incorporating them into their daily routines and organizational culture, establishing a new, stable state that reflects the updated modus operandi.

They feel more optimistic and begin to truly integrate those aspects of change into their day to day lives.

In Wissam's words, this phase is about the endings. “The endings phase is characterized by acknowledging loss, grieving the past, and fostering commitment and motivation toward embracing the evolving reality of change.

How should leaders navigate this phase?

Be Consistent: Maintain consistency in messaging and actions, aligning behavior with stated values and goals.

Celebrate Success: Acknowledge and celebrate achievements, reinforcing positive behavior and instilling confidence in the new direction.

Focus on Productivity and Quality: Shift focus from innovation to productivity and quality, ensuring sustainable performance.

Long-Term Planning: Shift attention back to long-term goals, fostering a

sense of stability and direction.

"You can't force new beginnings. You'll notice it when it happens."

Wissam’s approach to leading through change highlights the intricate interplay between psychological transitions and effective leadership, ensuring that change programs not only succeed but also nurture a resilient, adaptable organizational culture.

If you are a leader looking for more support as you navigate transformation, get in touch and book a 1-on-1 consultation with us. We’d love to hear how we can help you effectively lead through change.


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