Just as the seasons have a predictable cycle, so there is a natural ebb and flow to business. The rhythm of your organisation may be linked to your sales or production cycle or other external factors, but there will also be unpredictable change which leaders need to monitor and navigate. As the northern hemisphere enters the autumn, it’s prompted me to consider what the seasons can teach us about leading and managing change in business.
Seasonal change is when Mother Nature prepares herself for the next phase. Whether that’s going into sleep mode to survive the winter or putting on vigorous growth when warmth and nutrients are abundant, survival depends on responding and/or reacting to the prevailing climactic conditions.
Managing change in business is very similar. Leaders must be alert to the prevailing ‘weather’, monitoring the environment around them (both externally and internally within the organisation) and taking appropriate action to help their team adjust, adapt and perform.
Regardless of the time of year, what are the seasonal signs to look out for in your organisation?
Spring is a time of positivity and potential. Managing change when it’s ‘springtime’ is exciting and invigorating. Perhaps there is a new launch to focus on, new investment coming in or new people joining the team. You will likely be in a growth mindset and brimming with ideas.
This environment requires a clear head and good communication. Harness all the positive energy which you and your team are feeling, but don’t become distracted by the shiny newness of everything and get pulled in too many directions at once. Springtime is busy and demanding so it’s important to manage energy levels to avoid burnout. Clear lines of reporting and a defined, oft-repeated purpose together with a clear vision, or picture, of what you are building together will ensure things stay on track.
Summer indicates healthy growth and is likely to be a period of relative calm. The atmosphere will be one of buoyant equilibrium, with no major change initiatives or personnel problems to deal with. Summer is the sweet spot when Profit and Smiles are at their peak.
Your change management skills can perhaps take a back seat for a while, but your antennae should still be switched on and alert to any unexpected fluctuations or unseasonal conditions. This is where your listening skills come to the fore: take the opportunity to spend time with team members and ensure you hear from everyone, not just the extroverts. Ensure you continue to repeat the uniting purpose and vision to keep everyone pointing in the right direction.
Inevitably at some point the winds of autumn will blow through your organisation. You will feel a downshift, perhaps a hit to your market share or a loss of exclusivity of product(s). The metaphorical drop in temperature will be felt by everyone in the business and they will look to their leaders for reassurance and direction.
Leading and managing change in such troubling circumstances can be challenging. You may be forced to tighten finances, restructure or reprioritise, all of which will be deeply unsettling. After Action Review can be an excellent tool to help grow resilience and drive collective engagement. It creates an environment where everyone’s voice can be heard and people work together to solve problems. Despite the ‘cold’ environment, they can still feel listened to, valued and important and this motivation can help performance.
Just as a tree becomes stronger when its roots strain against the storm, so your team can grow and thrive as a result of such inclement conditions.
The cold stagnation of winter indicates an unhealthy status quo. Low energy, poor performance and a lack of engagement result from an unhappy, unmotivated team. Things may not be getting any worse, but they’re not getting better either. It’s often the case that everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move, expecting others to kick start the business. Teamship and leadership are in short supply.
It’s up to you as leader to turn up the temperature. Winter is a time to be bold and face up to your collective failings. What isn’t working and why? How do you need to change? Sometimes this is the point at which leaders most need external support to help them step back into the sunshine. We’re experts in helping our clients throw off their winter cloak, with team and leadership development programmes specifically designed to reinvigorate performance and engagement.
Whichever season you find yourself in, it’s vital that you are aware of your own internal seasonal flux too. Being able to listen to your inner voice will help you prepare for managing change. Understanding how to let go of negative feelings as well as developing an ability to channel positive energy appropriately will ensure you get the very best out of yourself and your team whatever the season.