Cancel the solo performance – it’s time to empower your team

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] June 3, 2016

The rapid pace of change in modern firms requires leaders to chart a course for success while at the same time inspiring those around them to play their part, writes Michelle Gibbings.

There is a famous saying: “May you live in interesting times.” There is considerable conjecture about the saying’s origin, but there is no doubt that the sentiment applies today. Change is everywhere. So much so that the World Economic Forum has branded this wave of change the fourth industrial revolution. No sectors are sheltered from it, including the legal profession.

Lawyers are working in an ever-changing landscape, resulting in organisational environments which are often struggling to keep up with the pace of change required. For lawyers who lead people, this means they need to embrace the fact that they play a critical role in guiding their team through change.

Lead the way

Leading through change is demanding because more is required of the leader. The team is looking to the leader for guidance and direction, and they want to be supported and involved with the change. The challenge is that this is not necessarily a leadership skill that lawyers have been taught. When change is managed badly, productivity suffers and employee engagement drops, with potential flow-on impacts to clients. Why? Because making a change brings ambiguity and instability. That is natural. People wonder about the change, and worry about what it means for them. It is even harder for people to cope if the change is introduced into an environment where people do not know the role they need to play and the rules of the game. Ignoring these elements will not make the issue go away.

Confront the challenge

It is much better to confront the challenge and to have a clear plan and approach. Part of this involves understanding that change leadership is not a solo venture. Success requires a diverse mix of people to get the change initiated, built and implemented. The roles they take on and how they do it need to be carefully orchestrated. For example, there may be other people in ‘lead roles’ (that is, other change leaders and advocates across the firm) and ‘support roles’ (that is, change managers and technical experts who are designing the change). All of these roles play an important part in bringing the change to life.

Orchestrate the change

It can be likened to an orchestral production. When a production is good, it is well coordinated and everyone knows their role. The expectations are clear. There is a common purpose and a strong sense of team. They work in harmony with each other. Those involved in the production know that the ‘whole’ is only as good as the ‘sum of the parts’. A performance with multiple conductors causes confusion. If there are too many people trying to take the lead singing role, the music is unbalanced. If instruments are not tuned correctly, the performance is off key. If the players do not play in time with each other, the performance becomes a shambles. It is the same with orchestrating organisational change. While the leader needs to lead, they also need to identify who they need to involve, and at what stage of the process, to ensure the organisational change is successful.

Time to step up

Leaders must also be equipped with the skills to take on the role they need to play. For some lawyers this will require a shift in how they think and approach change so that:

  • the right people are involved at the right time throughout the change;
  • everyone is clear about the their role and knows how their role and work effort contributes to the team’s success and outcomes;
  • they really listen to people’s ideas and concerns so that team members feel heard;
  • they are willing to accept the fact that with change there are often unknowns and, as a result, they may not have all the answers;
  • the right team environment is created so that people feel engaged and inspired, and are actively involved in the change;
  • they are providing enough space for challenge and learning, and ensuring the team feels supported and encouraged to try new ways of operating, which is necessary to ensure the change is sustained.

The upshot is that leaders must try to stop initiating change through solo performances and consciously lead the change by empowering those around them.

Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian. She works with leaders and teams to help them accelerate management progress and is the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work. For more information, visit www.michellegibbings.com.