Our experience with organisations undergoing the transition to the NDIS is highlighting the importance and the challenges of a collaborative leadership style.
There’s no doubt about it: the NDIS presents huge challenges for everyone in a management role. The next few years will require significant change management, and the central challenge will be one of leadership.
It is already evident that to be successful in the NDIS, services must deliver exceptional customer service. This is only possible if every team is on song, and every staff member highly engaged, adaptable and proactive in their work.
The NDIS also requires major structural change for most organisations – redesigning services, restructuring teams, and redefining roles. Such change takes enormous effort and resources, and can generate a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in the workplace. Team morale can plummet, and energies that are needed for the shared task of change can disperse into confusion, resistance, conflict, apathy and negativity. Leaders at any level of the organisation can be torn between the need to stay in positive relationship with their staff, and the urgency for change.
How can you ensure your teams stay on track and build their capabilities through the NDIS change process?
Tackle the Change as a Team
One of the most common mistakes we see during times of change is a shift to a top-down leadership style. This occurs even in leaders who are usually highly collaborative. It’s relatively easy to lead collaboratively when we feel confident and clear, and when we can convey certainty and direction. Yet leading through change usually means leading through significant uncertainty.
Leading from uncertainty requires the ability to impart confidence without clarity, to be able to say ‘I don’t know, but I do know that together we are going to work it out.’ This kind of leadership takes courage and humility, but it can reap huge rewards in team cohesion and engagement.
During change we need everyone engaged and working cohesively towards our change goals, because change requires significantly increased energy and resources. There are so many extra tasks involved in change, and at the same time the challenge of coming to terms with the changes can cause distraction and dispersal of team energies. So there is both more work to do and less effective resources to get that work done.
We can’t diminish the work to be done, but effective leadership can channel team energies so they can be better used to help the change to proceed. The best way to do this is to engage the team in working collaboratively on the change.
Because collaborative change efforts engage people in addressing problems and designing solutions, these efforts tend to bring out each person’s management skill, helping everyone to step up and manage themselves better. The added benefit is that teams tend to also develop better collaborative practices and thus emerge from the change more cohesive and productive.
Manage Yourself Effectively
Amongst the pressures of change, most leaders do not pay enough attention to our own reactions to change, and we rarely provide appropriate support to ourselves as leaders. Instead, the common response is to become overly task focused and to be driven by the stress of the situation, during the very time that calls for us to be more present and engaged as leaders.
Change management is best done by going slow to go fast – taking more time to connect, to communicate and collaborate. Unfortunately this is only possible if we can manage ourselves and the sense of urgency and uncertainty that change evokes in all of us.
Managing ourselves effectively as leaders includes attending to ourselves as human beings, and thereby maintaining our capacity to be appropriately human with the people we work with. We need to keep in mind the reality that when work becomes more challenging, our own stress levels rise and if we don’t step up our strategies for managing that stress, we risk it spilling over and impacting on our work quality, our relationships, as well as our lives beyond work.
We also need to recognise that the challenging behaviours we witness are usually inevitable side effects of change. It is pointless resenting team members for acting out even when they make our job more difficult. Working with these inevitable behaviours IS our job, and the best way to manage them is to manage ourselves well enough to handle the situation appropriately.
In future articles we will look at the importance of winning hearts and minds for a successful transition. We will also explore resistance and conflict, and how these dreaded but inevitable side effects of change can be helpful for the change process.