Paving the way for change: 4 tips for effective change leadership

Business growth is about exploring new paths, but it’s often hard to get employees on board. Here’s how to avoid the lone road with strong change leadership.

change leadership

‘Only leadership can blast through inertia and motivate people to change in a meaningful way.’ –  John Kotter

Change is opportunity for the ambitious entrepreneur. Yet new directions often fall short due to employee resistance and lack of engagement.

According to John Kotter, the problem stems from an over-reliance on change management, and a lack of proactive change leadership. He explains that while management is about control and maintenance, change leadership is – crucially – about empowering people and ‘putting an engine on the whole change process.’

At Turbine, we’re a team of remote workers and we’ve been through a lot of growth and change ourselves. This week we’ve pulled together our top tips for effective change leadership:

1. Always give a heads up

It sounds obvious, but most of us fail to communicate properly. This is particularly common with small ‘no brainer’ changes, like adopting more efficient paperwork systems. If something is going to affect people’s day-to-day processes, it’s your duty to tell them in advance.

Here’s a short clip from Woody Allen’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion – it’s a brilliant take on what happens when you don’t:


Allen’s character, Briggs, confronts his boss because she moved his files for ‘streamlining’ without consulting him first.  Although exaggerated, this is pretty much exactly how we feel when we’re out of the loop. This sort of thing will do you no favours in gaining your employees’ trust, which you’ll need when you embark on bigger change-missions.

2. Lead change with your vision 

All change is best communicated (and received) in the context of your company vision. Gracefully accept your role as the oracle – nobody knows more about your business than you do. Align mind-frames by answering everyone’s big questions:

  • Why are things changing? As Simon Sinek says, great leaders always start with why. It’s the secret to the kind of depth that engages and inspires people.
  • How are we going to get there? Often the road to change is a long and bumpy one. Be upfront about this; your employees will appreciate the honesty. Then, lead the way by breaking it down into small, manageable projects.
  • What’s in it for me? While there might be lots of benefits once you reach transformation, rewards and incentives along the way are important for boosting morale. Think about what your employees really want for their personal and professional development. You need to encourage people to grow with the company.

Make a point of presenting your vision properly. Scattered bits of information will only confuse people. At Turbine, we have a whole-company meeting once a month to talk about where the business is heading.

3. Overcome the comfort zone  

Even with the big questions answered, it’s human nature to feel uncertain about change because it forces us to step outside our comfort zone. Jason Clarke talks about this in his Tedx Talk on embracing change. He explains that while everyone wants change, we make excuses to avoid the unknown. He translates these excuses into what we actually mean:

  • It’s always been like this. The problem is older than we think.
  • It’s the same everywhere. The problem is wider than we think.
  • It’s tradition. Actually, I don’t know why we do this.

As a change leader, your role is to encourage open dialogue around breaking the status quo to get people on your side.

4. Build trust

Once you overcome these fears, it’s important to tackle cynicism. The only way to do this is to build trust with your employees. People won’t be fully committed until you prove that you are. As McKinsey say, you need to roll up your sleeves, relentlessly pursue impact and be a good role model. Commit to things like:

  • Taking responsibility for sharing information. At Turbine, our CEO Matthew sends weekly business reports to keep us updated.
  • Being part of informal discussion. After our monthly meetings, we all use Basecamp and Slack to talk about change-projects (and everything else).
  • Celebrating small wins together. There’s a lot of motivational power in small wins. Sharing them with your team reinforces group progress when tackling a big change.

Effective change leadership is all about addressing the emotional aspects of change, and building an ongoing conversation around your project.

On the same road home  

Through taking these steps before you set foot on the open road, you’ll create a strong esprit de corps and a more collaborative culture all round. This way, when change is approaching (big or small, forced or strategic) everyone will be on board and rooting for success.

Be a good change leader, and everyone else will follow.

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