One organizational change challenge for new leaders is balancing their desire to demonstrate their ability to lead with the capacity and readiness of the people they are leading.
That’s why, when I coach new leaders who are excited to make changes quickly to an established department or organization, we explore three questions:
- How do you know (not think you know) the change you are proposing is needed and will address the problem?
- What is your timeline for adoption?
- What do you know (not assume or think you know) about the organization’s capacity and people’s level of readiness in the organization or department?
The questions help new leaders who want to rush to launch change initiatives take a pause. Reflecting and answering the questions sets them up for success.
Rushing into a change without understanding the level of readiness or capacity for change can lead to disengaged and cynical employees. It will also make implementing future organizational changes more challenging.
Beware Confirmation Bias Ahead
As a new leader, you are excited to get started and demonstrate your capabilities. You bring a different perspective and new energy. This allows you to see things in new ways. However, that energy and fresh perspective can also inhibit your ability to understand the organization: the reason, confirmation bias.
Every human has biases. Biases are unconscious beliefs or thinking that influence our view of the world. One common bias is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is seeking the evidence that supports your beliefs and ignoring evidence that is inconsistent with your views or perception. It played a critical factor in the 2007 recession.
Confirmation bias can be a blind spot for every leader. For new leaders, their perception of the organization before they take on the role, expectations about their role, and their beliefs about change can raise the risk of confirmation bias.
Becoming aware of confirmation bias is the first step. However, it is not enough. That’s because biases are outside of our conscious control. For that reason, Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist at Stanford University, states we can’t simply watch out for confirmatory bias or any bias. However, as she states, you can use team-based practices to control for biases.
For you as the new leader, ask and engage people who hold a different view of the changes and the organization. You can also challenge your assumptions and consciously look for evidence that supports a different view of the need for change. For example, if you believed or were informed the organization needed to change its customer service model. Before initiating any changes to the model, ask: what evidence is there that the current customer service model is working as it is?
Another way to reduce the risk of confirmation bias is to let go of a resistance mindset. That is the belief that people resist change. Leaders with a resistance mindset hear questions, feedback, and counterarguments to a proposed change as resistance.
Instead adopt a readiness mindset. Leaders with a readiness mindset hear the same questions as feedback. It is information they can use to inform, make decisions or guide their actions. That’s because leaders with a readiness mindset approach change with the belief that when people believe change is needed, feel prepared and supported they will move toward something new. Therefore they ask more questions, demonstrate curiosity and, the feedback allows them to view the problem from another perspective. They listen with the goal of understanding and are ready to challenge their own assumptions and beliefs.