To the uninformed, change is an unnecessary hassle; to the informed, change is a necessary evil; to the few, change is what they thrive on! Those that form part of the “few” group see change as an opportunity to get better – to tweak company processes and systems for greater productivity, to enhance quality and customer service, to grow product reach, to gain better profitability and enhance brand value. Their vocabulary includes words like: faster, more efficient, greener, more responsive, less costly, user-friendly, ergonomically sound, etc. and their common assumption is that there is always a better way of doing things – better in the sense of impactful, more efficient and effective. These few are not only driven by a passion for perfection and achievement, coupled with a desire for rich rewards and meaningful acknowledgement, but are also equally governed by establishing a good return on investment for shareholders. All companies need these “few” if they are to grow consistently and sustainably.

Although the aforementioned may be true – meaningful change is indeed an opportunity to perform better – the “people” pieces of the change puzzle should not be ignored. In fact, for the needed change to take root, purposeful attention needs to be given to change leadership. Inter alia, this involves a simple acronym, SPARK, the same of which requires intentionality and action from all in leadership roles:

  1. Sensitivity to employee emotions – all change evokes varying emotional responses at different levels in the organisation. To prevent significant resistance and even change fatigue in certain circumstances, managers should focus on debriefing emotion and talking through the “why” of the change, hopefully giving employees an opportunity to participate in the “what” of the intended change. Employees need to feel that they have some control over part of what is to transpire.
  2. Perceptive to the times – employees want user-friendly systems and processes that serve real purposes, not mundane bureaucracy. Customers want integrated, modern, cost-effective and convenient solutions that truly work. Shareholders want dividends, sustainability and a brand that grows in value. As the perception of the above changes over time, managers need to listen to all with the intent to understand and meet expectations.
  3. Aligned to the values – stated company values and beliefs are the foundational pillars that support and govern every action, decision and future plan. Leadership behaviour should exemplify values in action. Performance systems should be values-based.
  4. Resilient to criticism, but open to feedback – not everyone appreciates the decisions made by leaders, a criticism will be frequent. A clear sense of direction and a belief in subsequent decisions subsequently are both necessary to drive change and accomplish change goals. A leader, however, should always be open to receiving feedback, even requesting it at times. Well-directed feedback, offered sincerely, is of great value to the leader.
  5. Kitted with the tools – change leaders should be sure (a) that they are upskilled for their 21st Century change leadership roles and (b) that employees have been trained comprehensively for that which lies ahead. Feelings of insecurity and anxiety are minimised with proper preparation. Investment in people development pays dividends during change interventions.

Leadership ‘spark’ propels change – makes it more effective, garners more buy-in from employees and produces better change results. Change in the 21st Century requires leadership intentionality.

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