17 June 2024

The Power to Change: Business Leadership in a World of Covid

Executive Education
| The European |

By Campbell Macpherson, international change expert, Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author of the 2018 Leadership and Business Book of the Year. His latest book, The Power to Change is out now, published by Kogan Page worldwide. www.changeandstrategy.com

Leadership today is all about leading change. It is the key leadership skill. However, 88% of change initiatives fail. The same is true for business strategies, mergers and acquisitions. 7 out of 8 fail to deliver what they set out to achieve. This article is designed to help you to be the 1 in 8 that succeeds.

To succeed in today’s uncertain times, every business needs to enhance the ability of its leaders to lead change and the ability of its people to embrace change.

Every business needs to enhance the ability of its leaders to lead change and the ability of its people to embrace change.

I used to think that VUCA was merely an acronym invented to keep academics occupied. Now we are living it. And we have learnt a great deal about our ability to lead and embrace change during this incredibly volatile year; a year that has also been packed with uncertainty complexity and ambiguity thanks to Covid-19 and our governments’ reactions to the virus.

This article is in three parts: first we will take a look at what 2020 has taught us before delving into the business-critical subjects of leading change and embracing change.

2020 has taught us some vital and valuable lessons about business and change:

  • We can embrace change, even difficult change that is forced upon us, as long as we have a strong emotional reason for doing so – and we are supported during the change. Populations across the world compiled with lockdown restrictions unheard of in peace time.
  • Working from home – works. It is less than ideal as it is impossible to replicate crucial interpersonal interactions over Zoom, but remote working is destined to be the norm for many of us post-Covid. This is already forcing CEOs and CFOs to revise their thinking about physical offices and having major consequences for city centres in almost every nation.
  • Mental health matters. 2020 has seen anxiety levels skyrocketing. And this shows no sign of abating. There are simply too many unknowns. No-one performs well when they are anxious. Your people need help to cope with this anxiety – and the best solution is honing their ability to embrace change.
  • Every business is a digital business. ‘Digital’ is now a key component of every business but few businesses bother to define it properly; to make it relevant to them. We leaders need to ask our people “What does ‘digital’ mean for our business?” And then how we implement it – quickly.
  • Recurring revenues matter. The companies who came into 2020 with recurring revenues. Every business now needs to think of themselves as a ‘SaaS’ (Software as a Service) business. One of my clients, iPipeline, the US and UK leader in life insurance technology, transformed their revenue model to recurring revenues well over a decade ago. Roper Technology acquired them for $1.65 billion last year, more than 8 times gross revenue. But it isn’t only tech firms who are able to do this. Peleton doesn’t sell exercise bikes, it sells recurring monthly subscriptions. As hotel chains across the world have descended into panic, The Soho House Group was able to benefit from an additional $100m of capital in the middle of this crisis due to the fact that c25% of its revenues come from its membership subscriptions – and its members aren’t cancelling. Every single one of my clients is looking very seriously at how they can transform their business model to increase recurring revenues.  
  • Sustainability is more than a buzzword. In fact, it has four components – financial sustainability, social sustainability, environmental sustainability and strategic sustainability. The last one is critical if you wish to lead your people through change.

Leading your people through change

My first book, ‘The Change Catalyst’ (Wiley 2017) was the 2018 Business Book of the Year. It is about leading change. It is the text that informs the ‘Leading Change’ workshops and webinars I run for Henley Business School and organisations worldwide, in which the delegates explore why change fails and, more importantly, how to lead successful and sustainable change. Here are a few of the main areas we cover.

Successful change leadership requires:

  • Complete clarity of what you are trying to achieve and why. And I am not simply talking about numbers. Narrative is just as important, if not more so. Your people not only need to know what numbers they need to hit, but also what the future will look like and what actually needs to change. They also need to know why – and the reason will need to be compelling. 
  • Understanding the implications. Too many leaders forget to engage their people in identifying the implications of the change. Every decision has consequences. Even ‘good’ change has its downsides. Successful leaders of change uncover them ahead of time – but not on their own. And understanding the implications requires genuine engagement. It requires listening.
  • Remembering that emotion trumps logic every time. In fact, emotion is four times more powerful than logic when it comes to change. Logic will only get you 1/5 of the way there. You need to engage your people emotionally if you wish to succeed.
  • Removing complacency. Complacency is an insidious disease that can infect any organisation – not only the successful. It needs to be eradicated. What are the sacred cows of your organisation; those things that nobody questions? And where are the elephants; those questions that nobody dares to ask?
  • Creating a change-ready culture. What culture have you and your fellow leaders created? Is it one where people are comfortable in questioning the status quo? Is it one where people are encouraged to voice their concerns and doubts? Where they are invited to challenge? Is it one where they look for new ways of doing things? Are they ready, willing and able to embrace change? They need to be – for their own well-being and the health of your business.

Give your people the power to change.

We humans don’t change simply because we are told to; we only change if we want to. So, as leaders, it is our job to help our people to want to change.

I also run ‘Embracing Change’ workshops and webinars for employees worldwide, based on my latest book, The Power to Change. In fact, every delegate receives a copy of the book with your company’s logo on the cover and a foreword from your CEO. In the workshop, we help the delegates to build their resilience and embrace change. We help them appreciate that:

  • All change is emotional. The powerful emotions we feel when confronted by major change are not only OK, they are normal. Just realising this can be a giant step in the right direction. The reaction of one lady sticks in my mind. She was wiping away tears throughout much of the first session and came up to me in the break to thank me. Her father had died recently, and she had no idea that the rollercoaster of negative emotions she was feeling were normal. Her relief was palpable. But we are very clear that this is only the first step.
  • We all erect natural barriers to change, which we can also overcome. We can learn to detach from our negative thoughts, observe our emotions, reframe the way we look at life’s challenges, confront our fears, voice our doubts, find good tribes – and change.
  • They can be their own change catalyst. Not only is it ultimately up to them to change, but the power to change lies within them. The person best placed to enable them to change – is themselves. Life is so much more rewarding when we take responsibility and make the changes we know we need to make. We give them the tools and approach they need to do just that.

Your people can learn to harness change and make it work for them – it is the key life skill and pivotal to the success of your organisation.  

One of the greatest gifts you can give your people is the power to change.

Campbell Macpherson is an international business adviser and the author of The Power to Change: How to Harness Change to Make it Work for You, published by Kogan Page, priced £14.99

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