By Gary Knight, WOLF CEO, explains how to manage and lead change effectively
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that businesses should always be ready for change.
Planned or unplanned, the skill to lead a business through a transition should never be underestimated. It’s something all leaders, regardless of their specialism, should practice because it isn’t an easy process.
The fact is, we are scientifically wired to resist change. Change disrupts our autonomy to do things and can end up with us feeling as though we have lost some control over something.
When you’re in the position of leading a business through a significant change you must understand the uncertainty that will surround your workforce. They will be asking themselves, almost immediately, how a particular change will impact them and because they don’t know the answer there comes a feeling of dread, anxiety and fear so the change is naturally resisted.
It all stems from a part of our brain, known as the amygdala, which kicks in. If change is interpreted as a threat then the amygdala will release hormones for fear, fight or flight. It’s the body’s way of protecting you from change.
Having just led a significant business change over the past year it has given me frontline experience of leading change and how to be effective with it. We rebranded our chat messaging app, Palringo, to WOLF (The World’s Online Festival), to offer new and existing users more entertainment with live audio shows, in addition to the chat functionality.
Thankfully the rebrand has been a huge success and I believe there are four key areas of leadership that helped achieve that. They are: to understand, communicate, support and share the journey.
As a CEO, if my leaders aren’t as bought in to the business strategy as me then they can’t lead the change. Simple.
It’s the job of a CEO to seek the buy in of his or her leadership team and ensure that they firstly, understand the idea, but most importantly understand the ‘why’ behind it. You must have your executive team behind you; this is imperative to leading change effectively in my opinion.
The senior team must be thoroughly briefed and believe in what you’re proposing to do because they are the ones speaking to the troops. It’s impossible for a CEO, particularly one at the helm of a large, global business, to have a one-to-one conversation with every single team member, so you become reliant on the message cascading down and the message must be consistent.
You want everyone to believe in the concept as much as you so you need your senior leadership team to deliver the same passion, thinking and excitement as you, across the business.
When everyone is bought in, that’s when the magic happens!
For the bulk of 2020 businesses everywhere demonstrated that internal communication doesn’t stop just because teams aren’t in the same room, office block, building or even the same country! Meetings, webinars, seminars, conferences are all perfectly executed virtually now, and leaders must use this mindset shift to their advantage and ensure they communicate in any way possible if they are to lead effective change.
When business experiences change, whether it’s new ownership, expansion or a rebrand, CEOs must be visible. As stated earlier, it’s impossible to have one-to-ones with everyone but what is possible is weekly updates, Q&As, newsletters and so on.
For us at WOLF, when we rebranded from Palringo it was a huge undertaking. Palringo was successful, if not thriving, so the risk was our workforce wondering why we were trying to ‘fix something that wasn’t broken.’
We held a virtual conference at the end of 2019 (way before anyone even knew what Coronvirus was) and delivered our overarching vision for the rebrand. From there we have conducted weekly updates on our app. It’s been an invaluable source over the past year and has certainly helped us in succeeding in our ambition.
It’ important to recognise the inputs that will become fundamental to the output. There will be divisions in the company that will need more support than others when a business transitions itself through change.
For us we needed to ensure our development team were appropriately managed and had the support it required to create the WOLF product we envisaged. We knew that marketing would need extra resource and budget, so we planned this into the execution. Teams must feel reassured that their leaders understand their needs and will be there to support them.
Talk to your market and share the journey with them. If a customer walks into their favourite shop one day and suddenly sees new branding, new messaging, new colours, new lines, they will instantly feel unfamiliar. All that work garnering that consumer’s loyalty is gone in an instant.
That consumer will feel forced into change and the chances are they won’t like it. This becomes risky if you start doing the maths and that one becomes a hundred, a thousand, a million and so on. Where does that leave you?
It was important for us to share the WOLF assets with our existing users and tell them what we were doing, where we were taking the Palringo brand.
We wanted a positive behavioural change and by the time we moved to the WOLF brand, a vast majority of our users knew it was coming, were involved and felt part of the process.
And it paid off, the number of users investing in app add-ons, doubled and we successfully recruited new users.
We know that change can have a significantly positive impact on business. It can increase efficiency, productivity, drive growth and open up new opportunities. However, it must be executed and delivered effectively internally and externally. There will be a lot of businesses whose outlook has changed in the wake of the pandemic and change will be on the horizon.
For those leaders developing their strategy for 2021, remember these four components to leading that change: understand, communicate, support and share.