U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Dorl, pictured here left, in April 2015. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles by Thomas Dorl, USAF (ret.) on military leadership.
Changes are a normal and natural part of any organization, and leaders at all levels must be prepared to lead through and succeed in a changing marketplace, organization or operation. While there are countless recipes for change, I have found by using the acronym ENJOY, leaders can become more successful and organizations can more easily navigate the changes. Of course, each organization has its own definitions of change.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with saying “change is the only constant." Through using these five simple action items, you’ll find changes will be a little easier, manageable and more fun for you and your team.
Embrace it. As the leader, change is a key element to a successful team and organization. Change is sometimes directed by a superior or as the leader you foresee the need to change based on the market, environment or operation that is ongoing. Either way, you as the leader must wholeheartedly embrace the changes needed to thrive, as many organizations that refuse change lose market share, industry influence or die altogether. Leaders must fully support the change required and understand what needs to be done to accomplish it. You can accomplish this by understanding what changes are needed, how you and your team will execute it and most importantly, why the specific change is needed. Here, open and direct communication about the change is vital to getting started with change. This can be accomplished by formally announcing the change you want to see as a leader.
Name it. While embracing change, make sure the “why” is clearly defined and understood. During rescue missions, visualizing recovery of the survivor and then working backward is a sound and useful technique. Linking together all the participants in the mission with the techniques and procedures required can help you and the team plan more effectively. This also helps to identify threats, hazards and opportunities that need to be dealt with and the changes needed to ensure a successful recovery. Leading through changes are no different. By naming the change (think desired end state), you want to see at the end of the work and efforts, expanding into a new market, hiring a more diverse workforce or something else, you as the leader must name and define the change you want to see. Start there and then work your plan and strategy to accomplish it. After this step, it is important to assemble your team to get moving on the change.
Join together. As discussed in the first article, listening more than talking is a valid technique. Pull your team together after you name the change you want. Your team will be the key players with each other’s strengths and weaknesses to embrace the change and then work to the end state you just defined. Sometimes during changes, personal agendas are revealed, and those need to be dealt with head on and removed if they do not support the change. Also promote and champion supportive ideas and personnel embracing the change — those will be powerful force multipliers. A widely used technique of joining together is to host an “off-site” away from the office to get your team in a relaxed, comfortable and fun atmosphere to provide focus, name and outline the changes, and plan the key steps and actions for the change. These off-sites provide a great venue for your team to bond socially as well and connect to affect the change you seek a leader.
Observe. After the change is outlined, and named and your team is assembled, you must observe and monitor the plan that you outlined and put in the place for action. Sometimes what is outlined on paper is not what actually happens. Business and other enterprise-wide environmental factors will influence the change you are seeking. If you have ever heard the comment “this looked a lot different on paper,” then you know observing and taking appropriate action are key steps to leading through change. While flying, most of us are familiar with flight following services. This concept is the same as the leader watching what is happening according to plan, pointing out hazards, potential conflicts and communicating recommendations to achieve the end state you originally named. This is a well-used procedure to help leaders succeed through most changes.
You. Lastly, you as the leader, no matter the level at which you are leading, are the vital element to accomplishing the change. If you do not embrace it, name it, join your team together and observe what is happening, you will likely get a result you did not want or even need, thus wasting time and precious resources. Keep your team focused on the end state, provide regular updates to leadership, customers and suppliers. Here your best leadership technique is to both send and receive regular updates via meetings or reports or best yet walking around to see how the change is unfolding. In today’s technology-infused world, leveraging social media can be a powerful extension of leading change in your organization. Whatever method you find useful, none will be effective without you as the leader ENJOYing change!
Note: These views are those of Thomas Dorl, USAF (ret.) and are his alone and do not represent the views of the USAF or the DOD.