Making a Big Change? Avoid These Four Common Leadership Mistakes

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Many leaders make easily preventable mistakes when launching major organizational change initiatives, including: not reaching out to key stakeholders for feedback; making key decisions unilaterally, without consulting the team; dropping major issues on the team without warning; and not reinforcing the reasons for change and soliciting feedback once the change is underway.

Today’s post is by David Mattson, is CEO and President of Sandler Training, and author of The Road To Excellence (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

A change in the physical location of your company headquarters.

A major revision to your sales team’s commission plan.

The restructuring of your product line and/or your marketing and promotional plan to accommodate new technologies.

These are all major change initiatives. If you’re a company leader, you are inevitably going to reach a point where a decision will be required from you in a sensitive, high-impact area of transition for your business, like one of those just mentioned. How can you ensure the decisions you make are the right ones? How can you be sure that, once they are made, they don’t cause chaos and internal turmoil on your team? To begin with, you will want to avoid four extremely common mistakes we’ve seen repeatedly in the area of change management:

Mistake #1: Not looking at the issue from the perspective of all the stakeholders. If your immediate concern is reducing expenses, slashing your production department’s budgets by 25% may seem to make sense at first … but what will the effect be on product quality, and what will be the impact on your customers? Don’t guess. Find out. (This is the kind of thing customer councils, whether formally or informally constituted, are for.) Your decision about whether you do and how to make a major change – whatever it happens to be – is likely to have some kind of impact on your customers, your suppliers, your shareholders, and any number of others who are invested in the success of your business. You owe it to yourself, and your company, to find out how they will react to what you are considering. Getting plenty of external feedback will help you to put things in perspective, and perhaps even help you to reframe your change initiative. When in doubt, ask yourself and others: “What would the ripple effect of this course of action be?”

Mistake #2: Going it alone. No matter how much you trust your “gut” and your ability to make sound decisions, change initiatives, by definition, require input from multiple members of the management team. The bigger the decision, the more important it is to get your key people to contribute their insights, ideas, and concerns. Simply typing up an email announcing your plan for a major change and then hitting “send” to everyone in the company is a recipe for disaster. Consider the advantages of moving from an “I” decision-making model to a “we” decision-making model.

Mistake #3: Launching a big topic on your team with no warning. In order to get the best possible input on this decision from your trusted team of insiders, you will need to give people time to think about the issue at hand … before the actual meeting where you will be discussing it. So instead of simply announcing that you want to implement a more effective commission structure, then demanding the details of the new plan on the spot, give your key operations, sales, and finance people a couple of days’ advance notice. Tell them in broad terms what you want the new comp plan to accomplish. Let them know that this issue will be under discussion at your next team meeting – and ask them to think through the implications of whatever they decide to recommend. Then let them consider the possibilities. What specific behaviors and outcomes do you want to encourage – or discourage? What changes to the comp plan would accomplish that? What would the reactions of the sales team be? How can problems in rollout be anticipated – or prevented altogether? Use the face-to-face meeting to evaluate the pros and cons of the ideas they come up with.

Mistake #4: Not reinforcing the message. Once you have a clear consensus on the best way to approach the change you’re planning to make, whom the key players are going to be as that change takes place, and what the likely impacts are going to be … you can implement. But that’s only the beginning. After the change initiative is underway, you still need to follow through. Give regular updates on what’s happening as the change moves forward. Make sure this communication includes the people most likely to be affected by the change, both internally and externally.  Wherever possible, reach out to people using a medium they’re comfortable with. Some people will prefer video updates, while others will respond best to a one-on-one phone call or a team meeting. Offer as many options as possible, and solicit feedback every step of the way. That way, you can get a clear read on how the transition is going … and you can spot and address little problems before they become big ones.

These four strategies have been tested and proven effective. They will not only help you manage major change initiatives, but will also help you more effectively address the countless smaller changes you are responsible for helping your organization navigate on a daily basis.

Road to Excellence

David Mattson, is CEO and President of Sandler Training, and author of The Road To Excellence: 6 Leadership Strategies to Build a Bulletproof Business (CLICK HERE to get your copy). He oversees the corporate direction and strategy for the company’s global operations including sales, marketing, consulting, alliances, and support.  Under Mattson’s leadership, the Sandler organization expanded domestically and internationally to over 250 offices in 32 countries.

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One Response to “Making a Big Change? Avoid These Four Common Leadership Mistakes”

  1. Thank you for another well written, to the point brief on an important “organizational pain-avoidance” practice.

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