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The ability to manage change effectively is one of the five critical factors needed for effective execution. Yet, many organizations struggle with change management.

In OnPoint Consulting’s annual Execution Gap Survey of 935 leaders in various organizations, it was found that while the ability to manage change is a key predictor of an organization’s ability to engage employees and effectively execute its strategy, 41% of leaders in the survey believed that their organizations did not have a good track record for managing change. Furthermore, 42% of senior leaders in their companies do not manage change effectively.

Additionally, as noted in the recent webinar Reducing Uncertainty While Managing Change, 70% of change initiatives fail—this was the failure rate in 1995, and in 2016, the failure rate remained the same. Despite all of the money companies have invested in change initiatives and change training, the failure rate hasn’t really budged in more than 20 years.

What are these companies missing? How can they improve their ability to effectively respond to change while maintaining high levels of performance and ensuring employees remain motivated and engaged?

One solution is to ensure your leaders are flexible, adaptive, and able to create value while balancing multiple challenges and choices.

The Path to Flexible Adaptive Leadership

The best leaders—the ones who can adapt to change most effectively—are able to quickly diagnose a situation, evaluate the challenges involved, and apply a diverse set of behaviors that are optimized for meeting the challenges they’ve identified. Moreover, they can perform a delicate balancing act to address a variety of challenges without getting “tunnel vision” on one problem to the point that other issues become neglected.

While there is no magic formula that guarantees success for executing this balancing act, there are some useful insights provided by researchers and some highly successful flexible leaders that organizations can take a cue or two from.

Some of the key competencies for flexible leadership revealed in OnPoint’s own research and interviews with leaders in different organizations include:

  • Increasing Situational Awareness. The leader’s understanding of the internal and external factors that impact the organization’s effectiveness helps them understand what strategies are likely to succeed. Things like the shared values that make up a company’s culture, knowledge of prior events or decisions that shaped the organization, and the attitudes of employees all contribute to situational awareness.
  • Embracing Systems Thinking. Leaders need to understand how making changes in one area can affect others. Every organization has many interlocking systems, and alterations to one system can have a domino effect on the organization as a whole. Anticipating these effects helps leaders compensate for any impacts.
  • Coordinating Across the Organization. No one leader—not even the CEO—has absolute control over the success or failure of a change initiative. To achieve lasting commitment to change, every leader at every level of the organization needs to coordinate their efforts to manage the change. At no point should there be a “the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing” type of situation.
  • Leading by Example. Modeling the behaviors required by the change is one of the most important tasks for any leader in a successful change initiative. While modeling the positive behaviors is important, it’s also necessary to avoid setting a bad example—i.e. leaders should not revert to old behaviors.
  • Maintaining Focus. As situations change and new challenges come to the fore, flexible leaders need to be able to avoid letting these situations distract their attention and decrease their commitment to meeting change objectives. Balancing short-term challenges with the overall change goals is vital to maintaining momentum for the change initiative.

Change is an everyday part of modern business. New processes, technologies, regulations, and other factors require different companies to periodically adapt their business models and operating methods.

This is why flexible leadership is a must at all levels of an organization. Every leader, from the CEO to the managers working with frontline employees, needs to have the adaptability, interpersonal skills, and execution skills to navigate uncertainty during change and keep strategic initiatives moving forward.

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