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Sean Forkan is the general manager of Symantec Canada.
Sean Forkan is the general manager of Symantec Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Why leaders must take a different tack when managing change Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

There’s a prevalent trend in the tech industry right now; companies splitting to meet the demands of a quickly changing business landscape. We’ve seen it with HP, eBay and Symantec and there is speculation that other tech companies are headed in that direction.

The moment a company decides to make a large organizational change is the moment its senior leadership needs to commit to becoming exceptional change leaders. Change leadership is all about motivating forces, goals and processes that drive large-scale transformations, and change leaders are the ones committed to building the trust, open communication, and understanding of emotional responses needed for change. While change management is the function that gives you the tools and training to manage change effectively and minimize disruption, it’s change leadership that is the underlying key to success.

So what are we really talking about? In essence, effective leadership in a period of uncertainty and frustration drives a company toward a successful transition. Considering 70 per cent of all organizational change is unsuccessful, according to McKinsey research, the importance of effective leadership cannot be overstated.

In the wake of the announcement of the future plan to divide Symantec into two separate companies, I have been focused on successfully leading my organization through a period of major change. The division of our information management and security businesses is challenging our leadership in new ways. Although our reasons to divide the company are concrete – to maximize growth and increase shareholder value – we are aware of the impact this decision has on our employees, partners and customers, and are committed to the health of these relationships.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned to best manage organizational change.

Start with you

As we started to prepare for the upcoming changes, I had been focused on preparing my leadership team for the challenge. We had an executive coaching program in place to support their near- and long-terms development goals and we engaged a consultant who helped us prepare the team for the upcoming changes. What I really neglected in the process was me. I was not doing enough to prepare myself, which was doing a disservice to the entire organization. I realized I needed to change that quickly.

Communication is key

As a leader, you need to make yourself visible and accessible to all of your stakeholders throughout the period of change. This is crucial to retain trust. Open and honest communication is the key to success in many situations, and in a time of change, it’s imperative.

Communicate often

In a change situation, there’s no such thing as too much communication. Leaders must be open and available for informal one-on-one conversations, encourage two-way communication and understand the feelings that people experience during a transition. Some companies don’t communicate externally until they communicate internally to employees. Keeping everyone informed internally helps to cut down on speculation and what-ifs.

Remain empathetic

Change makes people feel uncertain about the future; often it awakens emotional responses like frustration, anger, confusion and sadness. It can also make people really excited and optimistic. Commit to understanding the psychological process everyone is going through. Take stock of your own response, and how you’re navigating the journey. No matter what stage you’re going through, it’s critical that you as a leader remain empathic to everyone around you.

Innovative Pathways, a consultancy that specializes in change leadership who I’ve worked with a lot over the years, has co-authored a change leadership tool, Change Navigator, with Discovery Learning Inc., that identifies four stages of transition that are common to change and helps people navigate through them:

1. Acknowledging – Awareness of the existence and scope of the change being experienced.

2. Reacting – Vetting and coping with emotions associated with the change.

3. Investigating – Exploring new options and building the new reality.

4. Implementing – Defining new expectations and building new skills and behaviours that build the confidence to implement.

Helping your employees through these stages will have an impact on the morale and ultimately the success of your organization. The leader’s goal is to get everyone to move through these four stages. But you are not immune and will be going through these four stages as well, so remember, you need to take care of yourself first in order constructively help others navigate their emotions. Think of it like putting on an oxygen mask on a plane. You’re always instructed to put on your mask first, so you can help others.

Keep focused on quality work

It’s difficult to remain focused during an organizational transition. It’s tempting to become sidetracked and let the quality of your work slip because you’re not sure if a specific task or project matters any more. Communicate with your team about what needs to get accomplished, and throughout the journey, check in. Celebrate the successes, and realign what needs to be fixed.

As the saying goes, “it is not the strongest nor the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”

Sean Forkan is the general manager of Symantec Canada (@SymantecCanada). Symantec (@Symantec) is one of the world’s largest software companies, helping businesses and consumers protect and manage their information.

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