How to lead change without triggering conflict

Change is constant and the past year has certainly highlighted the speed at which it can happen. Change management and service improvement are  key aspects of Leaders roles, and more so recently for those in healthcare. Leaders who regularly lead change will know that most people are unsettled by change which regularly gives rise to conflict. The better and sooner change is managed, the easier it is to identify potential sources of conflict and devise solutions before conflict spirals out of control.

Many leaders find that their attempts to implement change are regularly derailed and they are often unaware (until they take time out to develop their people skills) that their approach to leading others during change management is their greatest “interference”. There are two approaches to change management that I regularly encounter with clients which can prevent leaders from engaging others in change:

1.       The “enthusiastic change leader”; these leaders are usually process driven whose strengths lie in spotting gaps in processes which are impacting on service delivery. They quickly move to implement creative solutions for large scale change but find they are regularly stopped in their tracks due to either :

a.       Failing to seek the view of , or regularly communicating with those whom the change will effect most (usually those who will be implementing aspects of the change or those who will experience a change to their working arrangements) in their drive to implement change. This can cause huge unrest and disengagement among staff and damage existing and future rapport and levels of trust between the leader and those they lead.

b.       Competently communicating the change to their teams, involving all stakeholders, getting high levels of buy in and regularly reviewing progress. However some of these leaders eager to progress service improvements at a rapid pace can often be too quick to move on to identifying and solutioning their next change project.   Even the staff who are quick to adapt to change will become “change weary” when constantly moving from change to change.

2.       The “it will all work itself out” change leader; these leaders (often focusing on a more local or team specific change) can see the benefits of the change, provide a great vision and communicate the high level aspects and benefits to their people, but may then be unclear in communicating how the next steps of the change will progress or who will action what.  They may view their part as visionary and work from the premise that the remainder of the process will be worked out by the team once the bones of what is expected to change has been communicated.  Conflict will inevitably arise among team members where there is a lack of role clarity and where actioning the change has a specific impact on their role and workload.

Leaders who experience resistance to change may be other focused in their attempt to solution any conflict arising out of change management, however examining their approach to change as well as their leadership style are key to resolving conflict and ensuring good working relationships going forward.

Leaders who practice collective leadership by sharing responsibility and being personally accountable as well as modelling behaviours that they want to see in others and the change they want to deliver will influence others to become involved and stay the course in change processes. Through coaching and trust, collective leadership also ensures the delivery of continual quality improvement whilst at the same time building relationships.

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