When I look back on my technology career, it’s clear that being an effective and open-minded leader is of paramount importance, especially during tough times versus smooth sailing. Keeping your team moving ahead, focused, and driven, when it feels like the paint is peeling off the walls all around you, can be emotionally draining.
The first time I encountered some rough seas was when I worked at a multinational investment bank, where I needed to deliver results during a particularly tough cycle. I had been with the company for four years. I returned from maternity leave early and then organizational disaster struck. The bank decided to outsource the IT department to our parent company based in the Netherlands. This process took more than two years for my team to implement, with me leading a dejected group that was still expected to perform. Two years is a long time to keep the wheels from falling off the wagon.
The second challenging cycle for me took place when I worked for a large, multinational specialty (re)insurance company in the London market. Again, outsourcing was the theme; this time the transition to the outsourced company took much longer than expected – an issue the Executive Committee and Board had not envisaged. So, what do you need in your toolkit as a leader to help support these taxing times? First, realize organizational change is not a situation that is against you personally; rather it is always part of a cycle. Companies need to evolve, try new things, streamline operations, and be more cost effective.
Resilience is one way to keep a professional attitude. Negotiation is another way to power through transformation. Seeking to understand the journey and the expected end game is key. How can your talents continue to contribute once the change is in place? Sometimes senior leaders who initiate these opportunities fail to work through the change management details. This is where individual contributors can find a way to shine.
For leaders looking to keep a transition staff in place during change management projects, incentives always work – a little money can go a long way! Was I successful with my toolkit during those two change management projects I described? Absolutely! Understanding your team and the triggers that motivate them is essential. Not everyone is motivated in the same way. You need to make certain you know who on your team is looking for what. That is where negotiation comes in – for them and for you.
Supporting your team in their endeavors will sometimes yield surprising results. One of my team members at the investment bank chose to change his career path during the process, so we arranged for him to have day release to retrain as an electrician. He has been running a successful company since 2006. And, at the (re)insurance company, we came together as one voice and negotiated with leadership, requesting an increase in salaries for staying on an extra eight months to complete the outsourcing.
What have I learned about myself through these times? Change is tough and unsettling; however, it can result in a positive outcome. Change can be like grief, and you must understand the emotions that you and others will go through. Through my experiences, I have learned to embrace change more effectively and lead better as a result.