Leading through Change

Today’s Wednesdays for Women is another in our occasional series titled “Lessons from Leaders” featuring learnings of interest to anyone seeking insights and experiences to grow their leadership skills.  

Change is a consistent reality in today’s volatile and disruptive business landscape and nowhere else is this more apparent than in JDA today. Organizations that dominate the market have leaders who know how to lead through change and bring out the best in their people.

I had the opportunity to interview Beth Elkin, group vice president, Marketing to get her perspective on how we as leaders, can help drive change in JDA.

According to global Gallup research, only 15% of the workforce can be defined as engaged. How important is it to have the entire workforce involved in the transformation process? How do we bring about this engagement?

Successful transformation requires that everyone not only understands what is happening and why, but also what the transformation means for them personally. With any transformation initiative, there will always be an element of the unknown. That said, getting a good sense of what will change – and what will stay the same – and understanding the why and the how is a great place to start. I believe being as transparent as possible – and admitting what you know and don’t know about what is happening – can help alleviate concerns. I think it’s not as important to have all the answers as it is to communicate available information in a timely fashion, so that associates stay engaged and feel forward progress as much as possible. In my experience, the key to this communication success is twofold: You need to repeat the messages multiple times, in multiple ways, for them to stick, and you need to engage mid-level managers who understand and can carry the communications forward into their teams

One of the main reasons people are resistant to change is they are simply not sure what to do and feel lost in the transition from old to new. How do we as leaders provide clarity and direction when things are still evolving and at times, ambiguous?

One thing leaders can do is provide opportunities for their team members to get involved in the transformation and join cross-functional work groups engaged in an area of change. They benefit by having the opportunity to collaborate with others across the organization, gaining exposure beyond their current role and a chance to use their skills in a different way. It also gives them the inside track to information about what’s happening that they can then share with the broader team. Transformation that takes place only from the top down is going to generate a great deal more resistance than initiatives that engage associates at all levels.

It is said that organizational culture can act as a great enabler of change. How can we leverage JDA’s culture in helping our teams cope with change?

One of the key reasons that people are attracted to and stay with a company is culture, and that can also be an anchor when change occurs. At JDA, our key values of results, relentless and teamwork are all drivers for success when going through transformation. A focus on results helps everyone identify progress. When we are measuring and communicating what we’re doing, we demonstrate it is real, and associates can see the impact to the business. Relentless at JDA relates to our approach to continuous learning and development. Ongoing education is essential during transformation. One of the things I really like about JDA is that we try to make it easy and fun to learn. Knowing that not everyone consumes information in the same way, training is presented in many different ways, with accountability for learning through quizzes and surveys. For me personally, the foundational core value is teamwork. During change, when we’re all “in it together” and are learning from and collaborating with each other, the world becomes a bit smaller and the ties that bind us stronger. In my 19 years with JDA, I’ve been through a whole lot of change, and the element of teamwork – building a “band of sisters/brothers” that I’d go to battle with on any given day – is a result of our living the value of teamwork.

Competing priorities generally plague any change effort. How do we make sure that we stay focused and not stray from our change vision?

This is a great question. Competing priorities can be one of the hardest things about change initiatives, especially when you have cross-functional teams leading the change. The day-to-day responsibilities of our jobs don’t go away when we become part of transformation work groups or when extra learning and development is required to understand and embrace the change. Several things I have seen work include identifying one or two individuals who are 100% dedicated to the change effort, leading the coordination of teams, deliverables, measurement and reporting to help everyone else stay on track. A regular cadence of efficient meetings to ensure cross-team communication and ongoing progress is also critical.

To achieve any lofty goal, there are usually behaviors/activities that one must stop, start, and continue. What behaviors and traits must we exhibit as leaders to bring about a mindset transition in the people we lead?

As leaders, we need to give people a reason to trust us. We can do that by saying what we’re going to do, and then hold ourselves accountable for doing it. We must be as transparent as possible with our communications. If we change course, say so and why. When we can, share successes and set-backs – and the learnings that go with both. Ask a lot of questions. Ask for feedback – and then listen carefully to it. I frequently have to remind myself that everyone has past experiences – both positive and negative – that will influence how they respond to, embrace or deflect change initiatives. Giving associates a “safe place” to ask questions and express concerns may alleviate some fears and provides a feedback loop for leaders.

“A Leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be” – Rosalynn Carter

Tell us how you are leading your teams through change. We are all ears!

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