7 Leadership Guidelines for Successful Change Management

7 Leadership Guidelines for Successful Change Management

We have all heard it said, “Change is the only constant.” But we have all also felt that sense of unease when that change impacts us personally or professionally. Leaders play a critical role in getting the team to jump onboard with change enthusiastically.

And, without a change management strategy, people tend to go into denial, are passive aggressive in accepting the change, or do whatever they can to thwart it. Here’s how to avoid those negative outcomes.

Leaders Must Help Their Teams Understand the Nature of the Change

I’ve been a part of many changes over my career. Some were thrust upon me, and in others I was brought onboard to be one of the architects of a major new strategy. The same leadership guidelines apply in either case, whether you are the proactive change agent or are on the receiving end.

If you are in the role of a proactive change agent, you need to set the vision for change. You’ll get more buy-in if you help your team understands the critical nature of what will be different and why you need to evolve.  

A great example of this comes from Sarah LaFleur, founder and CEO of MM LaFleur. She describes a day early in her company’s lifecycle where she looked out on a warehouse full of merchandise that had not been moving.

LaFleur knew that doing the same things they had always done was going to result in the same performance, and the merchandise would still be there. So, made the decision to try a new sales approach and shared their new direction with her team.

This resulted in their best week ever – and they ended up selling more in that one week than they had in any prior month. This particular decision came more from desperation, an example of necessity being the mother of invention.

Take a look at a picture of their wall at their headquarters location to see all of the references to change:


Staying nimble, being flexible, and getting comfortable with change are critical traits of the people and teams that will be most successful going forward.

Thriving in a world of constant change is one of the most important characteristics since change will only continue to accelerate with all of the new technologies in place and on the horizon.

Seven Leadership Guidelines to Help Manage Change

So, what steps can a manager take to help guide his or her team through a major change? Here are seven guidelines I’ve found to be most helpful throughout my career.

1. Make the Case for the Change

As a leader, you know a change needs to be made, whether it is to stay competitive, address an internal or external force, or execute a company mandate from above. But, how do you present this to your team?

The first step you need to take to help your team accept the change is to explain the reasons behind the why.

Why the change, and why now? What does the end state vision look like, and why is this better for our business and for us as individuals? How will our customers and partners benefit from this change?

Answering these and other questions that come up from your team transparently is the first step in getting them to accept the change.

2. Explain What Will Happen if you Don’t Change

Paint a vision of what would happen if the status quo prevails. This can help your team see the change from a new angle, putting the need for change into better perspective.

3. Describe How the Change will be Executed

Some changes are quick and simple, while others are more complex and will take months or even years to get to the end state. These huge variations can make a team feel unsettled and unsure of what to expect.

If you outline the specific steps and phases of the change, as well as the timing of each, a lot of these fears will be quelled. Plus, it sets clear expectations for your team, both in terms of what’s to come.

4. Clearly Assign Everyone a Role

From communication to execution, everyone on the team will need to understand what is expected of him or her, in terms of job function, timelines, and more.

The more multi-faceted the change, the more discipline you will need around project management and communications, so make sure your team has a deep understanding of each of their roles, especially in cases of more complex change.

5. Prepare for Worst Case Scenarios

Anticipating obstacles and failure points up front will help you work through challenges when they inevitably come.

Take this planning one step further and document potential mitigation plans for each. Some questions to ask here include:

  • Which employees or teams will be most at risk?

  • Which customers and partners will be impacted?

  • What is our mitigation plan?

  • What processes could fail or be compromised?

By answering these in advance, you’ll lessen your team’s (and your own) fears of the unknown.

6. Share How Success Will be Measured

In addition to the obvious metrics, like revenue, determine other measures you can put into place to make sure your team is on track in implementing the change and making it stick.

If your team can clearly see the progress being made, they’ll be more motivated to continue working to enact the change.

7. Celebrate Success

An important but often overlooked element of a change management plan is building in acknowledgement and appreciation. This could be at any point - at the end of key stages, specific milestones, or even at the very end once the change is completed.

Let your team know you understand change is hard and that you appreciate their efforts. This can go a long way in keeping morale high.

Real Life Example: My Experience at Samsung

We put these steps into action for a few of the strategies I was involved with at Samsung. These transitions required shifting our team and our partners’ focus from selling a “product” to a “solution” along with the components that made up the solution.

We always started by talking about the case for change and the value to our customers. We outlined the benefits of changing first to our team, and then to our partners. We covered the risks of sticking with the status quo and not making the transition to the solution – again for both our own team and for our partners.

In one case, Keith Fuentes was identified as the principal communicator in conversations with partners and customers, and to train our sales team. Everyone knew they could go to him with anything related to this solution. Our training leader, Christy Jones, created a reference guide so the entire team had consistent messaging points and links to all of the pertinent tools and collateral.

The marketing team under Carmel Coscia created campaigns and material for partners to use. The sales teams took the messages out to our partners and customers.

We set quarterly goals in terms of revenue, training classes, and presentations delivered.

We implemented a “secret shopper” mechanism to test our team’s ability to put the messaging into their own words and reiterate it effectively.

Although the team was rewarded at some level with the commission on quota attainment, we also rewarded the reps who did the best job on the secret shopper exercise, and even saved some Winner’s Circle spots for the highest performers on these targeted solutions.

Key Takeaway: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

The most important component of any change management agenda is communication.

A solid communication plan for both internal and external audiences will be the difference between disengaging and engagement, between frustration and enthusiasm, and between denial and whole-hearted acceptance.

Be transparent about what you can say, and when. Convey that you are empathetic to the unease that can come in a changing environment by listening and welcoming dialogue and questions.

Kevin Gilroy was adamant about telling his audiences what he could, and telling them when he didn’t have an answer or was not able or allowed to share something. Your team will appreciate your honesty and will feel you are all in this together. Anticipate questions with a FAQ guide, and publish that widely.

In my experience, there is no such thing as over-communicating. Steph Korey co-founder and CEO of Away also agrees. She says that she knows she has communicated adequately when her team feels like she is a broken record.  

As Leon C. Megginson (not Darwin) said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”

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