Leading organizational change: The power of building strong relationships

Leading organizational change: The power of building strong relationships
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Leading organizational change can be a daunting task, especially when faced with various obstacles. Overcoming these obstacles can be demanding, but it is crucial for achieving successful change. While there are numerous articles and best practices on leading change, it all starts with building strong relationships. The key lies in establishing social capital and positioning yourself as a trusted advisor rather than a mere order taker.

In this blog, conflict resolution expert – Chris Wong – will explore five essential strategies and specific tactics for building vital stakeholder relationships. By implementing these strategies and tailoring them to your organization’s context, you can become a change leader who drives meaningful transformation.

Join Chris’s Webinar for more valuable tips on conflict resolution
From Conflict to Connection: Handling Difficult Behaviors in Tough Conversations

Challenges when leading organizational change

work challenges and overcoming them

As John Maxwell states, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.”

Leading change in organizations is even harder due to the following obstacles:

  • Uncertainty and ambiguity around the future, particularly in a post-pandemic world
  • Resistance to change from people at all levels
  • Organizational cultures and structures that hinder collaboration and change
  • Lack of stakeholder alignment
  • Change and decision fatigue and difficulty sustaining momentum

Starting with the foundation of strong relationships is crucial when it comes to leading change. Despite the changes brought about by the global pandemic, the fundamental principles of building and maintaining relationships still hold true. Successfully implementing organizational change requires the development of social capital, which enables you to establish yourself as a reliable and trusted advisor.

5 strategies for building key stakeholder relationships

Below are five main strategies and specific tactics to build key stakeholder relationships. These are adapted from an upcoming white paper I’ll be publishing about influencing without formal authority:

Strategy 1: Get personal with key stakeholders.

Your motto can be, “Make myself someone they want to help or they want to make happy.”

A good way to build a connection with someone is to discover shared interests or common ground. Then, you can deepen the relationship by opening up about your own vulnerabilities and mistakes. By allowing your personality to come through, you can show yourself as someone they want to partner with. The keyword in our more virtual world is intentionality. Whereas in the past, you could catch people in hallways or swinging by their office, we now have to intentionally meet with people by scheduling time with them.

As Zoom fatigue continues to stress us all out, your goal should be to make your meetings with the stakeholders as pleasant as possible.

Here are some additional tactics you can try:

  • Do little acts of kindness for them
    • Find what interests them and send them a gift. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
    • Even if virtual, you can send them articles about things they’re interested in.
    • You need to ensure it’s not a “gift with a price tag” – they shouldn’t feel like they owe you something – that will backfire and annoy them.
  • Share “Here’s what I can help you with…”
  • Contrary to popular belief, don’t ask them to make your stuff their top priority, at least not yet.

Strategy 2: Be consistent

Trusting relationships are built with consistent routines and rituals. So set up regular one-on-one meetings with important stakeholders to keep them informed and get to know them. Even if they’re just standing 10-minute meetings to let them know what you’re working on – they go a long way so they won’t feel blindsided by things coming up. This is the principle of overcommunication.

If you encounter resistance or opposition during leading change, instead of trying to defend your side more vigorously, take a beat and ask yourself, “How can I get along with this person?” and return to the common ground you have. If there’s any confusion, reach out immediately to clear up what you can.

Additionally, you can:

  • Keep your camera on in virtual meetings.
    • Nothing beats the visual of seeing another person, looking them in the eyes, and seeing body language.
  • Get to sites in-person
  • Ask to join meetings and ask, “What do I have or can I do that can bring value?”

Strategy 3: Recognize that you can’t win everybody right away

When working on organizational change, know that only a small percentage of leaders and people are referred to as “early adopters,” focus your greatest efforts on departments and leaders who are receptive to new ideas. In addition, you can capitalize on those who are naturally magnetic and influential so they can persuade the people around them for you. It’s also important to continue following up with those who help and acknowledge how they directly impacted the change and the value they brought.

For those who are harder to reach, work on building a culture of curiosity and collaboration. Ask questions, explore, and seek to understand what their concerns truly are. It might just be fear of the unknown, skeptical of the benefits, a sense of loss for what they’ve known, or fear of a change in their power and influence. Once you understand, you’ll be better equipped to support and address those concerns.

Strategy 4: Be clear about goals and expectations

The reality is that everyone is busy. In a time when budgets and resources are tightening across all industries, it’s important to effectively communicate what you need and what you specifically expect from them. This starts long before you even begin the change initiative. Senior leaders tend to feel defensive if they haven’t heard about a decision and haven’t had time to get comfortable with it.

So in the early stages of planning, reach out to key stakeholders and:

  • Share a proposal about an idea and ask about their ideas, or if appropriate, ask what ideas they have to make it even better.
  • Be clear about what you expect from them when you share your proposal. Otherwise, they will guess what you’re looking for.
  • Understand they’ll have objections, so think through what those may be and have a plan to overcome them.

Strategy 5: Be persistent and stay positive

Change is never a short-term process. It is often a long-term process that requires sustained effort and energy. As time passes and you keep experiencing roadblocks or resistance, you may experience change fatigue, causing a decline in motivation and commitment. It is more important at these times that you maintain positivity and persistence. You can proactively manage this fatigue by providing consistent communication, reinforcement, and periodic reassessment of progress. Most importantly, remind yourself why this change was so important in the first place!

What’s next? When leading organizational change

Mastering the art of influencing others when leading organizational change is a vital leadership skill. Building strong relationships based on trust, effective communication, collaboration, and empathy can foster an environment conducive to change adoption and success. Remember, influence doesn’t come from formal authority but from cultivating meaningful connections and leading by example. Embrace these strategies, adapt them to your unique organizational context, and unlock your potential as a change leader.

Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your negotiation and conflict resolution abilities.

From Conflict to Connection: Handling Difficult Behaviors in Tough Conversations Webinar

Join this webinar to navigate hard conversations, identify and prevent challenging behaviors, and effectively manage conflicts.

About the Author

From Conflict to Connection: Handling Difficult Behaviors in Tough Conversations

Chris Wong is a licensed therapist, certified executive coach, Founder, and Owner of Leadership Potential ⇗, where he helps leaders develop confident communication skills in challenging situations and relationships. Chris has overseen leadership and organizational development at a non-profit in the Northeast US. His work included training and coaching leaders at all levels of the organization to both strengthen and build a leadership pipeline.

Chris also works with HR, L&D, and non-profit leaders around difficult conversations, conflict resolution, building powerful relationships, leadership development, productivity, and leading change, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

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