Want to Drive Change? 7 Research-Proven Ways to Get It Done

As a woman in leadership, it’s your job and privilege to take employees to the next level. Their gain is yours. Here’s how you can drive change and improvement more effectively.

Some leaders are better at igniting and managing change in people and processes, according to leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, authors of Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution. They researched the difference between leaders who effectively led change and those who didn’t fare as well.

The best leaders influence their people to move in the direction the organization needed them to move. Essentially, they guide employees toward mastering skills, grasping new knowledge and achieving higher goals.

With each individual step forward, top leaders help their teams succeed more.

Here are the seven research-proven ways for you to drive change in employee performance and team results – plus two tactics that plainly don’t work.

1. Inspire

Fortunately, many women leaders already default to inspiration when helping employees. They take the “pull” approach – inspiring employees to try harder – rather than the “push” approach – forcefully telling and reminding them what they need to change.

More specifically, you can move employees toward improvement by working together to set ambitious goals, explore alternative ways to meet objectives and gather new or best practices to try.

The key is to make an emotional connection with employees so they can see the link between the goal and the change needed to achieve it. That creates desire, not fear, to succeed.

2. Take notice

The need for change or improvement often comes after a problem is recognized. Ideally, employees recognize the need for change before a major problem erupts.

So the best leaders work with employees to recognize problems early – and anticipate the snares those can cause. When you set goals or start new projects, make identifying potential snags part of the process.

Another way: Reward employees for identifying issues – not just managing problems once they’re realized.

3. Stay fixed on the clear goal

Productive, ongoing discussions about improvements should start and end with the same fixed goal.

Even as employees and projects progress, leaders want to keep their conversations focused on how training, learning or changes will help to achieve the goal.

4. Challenge the standard

Just because it’s always been done that way – and seems to work – doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. That’s the attitude of leaders who are most successful at spearheading necessary changes. In fact, they challenge the status quo – and encourage their employees to do it – more often than leaders who don’t manage change as well.

Researchers suggested the best leaders regularly challenge standard approaches – especially when the need for change is subtle – and work with employees on ways to improve them.

5. Build trust in your judgment

This approach is as much about improving your judgment as it is about how people perceive your judgment.

Leaders who best manage change collect information from multiple resources – colleagues with differing views, data and experience – before making decisions about what even needs to be improved. Then they maintain that depth of thoroughness as they figure out how to adapt and overcome.

So when you collect information, make sure employees often see you ask for advice and do your homework. They’re more likely to trust your decisions and follow your judgment when they know you’ve done much more than just follow a gut instinct.

6. Show courage

Change is uncomfortable for most people.

Leaders who manage change successfully show courage with a willingness to try new things, operate outside their comfort zone and take responsibility for mistakes that might happen while taking those risks.

7. Make change the priority

When change is the priority, the top leaders don’t let the necessary steps get jammed in with 50 other “priorities.”

When you’ve identified the need for change, it’s vital to take less-pressing issues off your own and employees’ plates. Give them guidance on how to track progress and encourage them to stay the course as they go on.

Bonus: Here’s what doesn’t work

Different approaches work for different people in different situations that call for change. But researchers found that these two approaches consistently don’t help improve performance:

  • Nagging. Incessant requests, suggestions and advice irritates people more than they change them.
  • Being too nice. Leaders who try to maintain a solely warm, positive relationship when change is needed can’t be fully effective. Women leaders must make some demands when change is needed.