What We Can Learn About Change Management From a Navy SEAL

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According to the U.S. Navy, its Sea Air and Land Forces, commonly known as SEALs, are highly skilled individuals trained to deliver very specialized and challenging warfare capabilities beyond those of the average military service person. While their roles are very different from those of business people, Navy SEALs learn many lessons applicable to the corporate sector. In his new role as the founder of TakingPoint Leadership, former Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson shares his knowledge of change management with professionals in a range of industries.

Anticipate the Need For Change in Advance

Writing for Inc., Gleeson commented that one of the key qualities of a good military leader is the ability to anticipate and prepare for change long before it’s required. He claims business leaders should also try to foresee the need for change before it’s really needed. Taking a proactive approach to change management would give organizations ample time to integrate change management strategies into their business plans and develop and implement necessary systems and training programs.

Empower All Employees to Participate in Change

The success of any military mission relies on the participation of all members of the troop, from those on the frontline to those at the top of the chain of command, Gleeson wrote in Forbes. If the troop doesn’t work together, it’s more likely the mission will fail. Similarly, Gleeson suggests change within any business should involve all members of the organization, not just the management team.

Before implementing any change, Gleeson wrote that team members should feel empowered about the change and encouraged to participate in its implementation.
“Giving a broader range of people more power to drive organizational change is tantamount to success,” he wrote in Forbes. “Inspiring the team is one thing, but physically and psychologically giving them more autonomy to participate in the transformation process is critical.”

He noted that in observing many companies and case studies, businesses whose transformation efforts fail tend to be those that aren’t inclusive. He feels an inclusive professional environment is important for business success at any time, but it’s crucial during times of change.

In an article in Inc., Gleeson offered several strategies for empowering and including employees in the change process. He encourages leaders to be transparent in communicating their vision for change throughout their organization and explaining how new systems and structures align with that vision. He also stressed the importance of comprehensive training throughout the process to help employees feel comfortable during the change.

Gleeson acknowledged that some employees are still likely to fight change, despite business leaders’ best efforts, but handling their resistance with transparent communication can neutralize the problem. He also encourages leaders to delegate responsibilities and let their team manage projects related to the change.

Invest Time in the Planning Process

In another article for Forbes, Gleeson wrote about the importance of planning time. In his work as a Navy SEAL, he observed the way that highly ranked officers quickly moved to the planning phase after getting their troops to accept upcoming change. Their plans mapped out both the ideal scenario and contingencies should things go wrong, because, as Gleeson noted, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

He advises business leaders to take a similar approach to strategizing for change management. Otherwise, they could make one of the most common mistakes that cause change management strategies to fail, according to one of Gleeson’s articles for Inc.: implementing change without any strategy at all.

Once the corporate culture accepts change, Gleeson says the leadership team should start collecting data about how best to implement the changes. He says this data should come from both external sources and internal ones within the business. This information should influence the plan’s development, including necessary contingency measures.

Communicate Effectively and Honestly

During his time as a Navy SEAL, Gleeson and his team worked according to the mantra “Move, shoot, and communicate.” As he wrote in Forbes, “We work in highly chaotic environments which require effective communication in order to adapt to change.”

While business environments are not as chaotic the military frontline, they too can benefit from effective communication during periods of upheaval.

Gleeson encourages business leaders to create working environments that encourage constant collaboration and communication, rather than occasional feedback. When communication is clear, open, and frequent, employees at all levels of an organization feel empowered and accountable for the success of change implementation.

Embrace Being Uncomfortable

In an article for Inc., Gleeson cites a Navy SEAL philosophy which states that officers should “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” He elaborates that the officers that succeed through training and the career it prepares them for are the ones that learn to manage uncomfortable feelings.

While the demands of managing change are not as extreme as those the Navy SEALs face, Gleeson writes that business leaders must adopt a similar comfort in being uncomfortable, adding that doing so is the greatest secret for successfully navigating change management.

Danny Iny, the founder and chief executive officer of Mirasee, wrote in another article for Inc. that success often comes from stepping outside one’s comfort zone. However, he added that entrepreneurs must know how far to step to optimize their results.

Just a small step sees individuals enter what he calls the “Zone for Slow Growth.” While change occurs along with a small degree of uncomfortable feelings here, the change is minimal. If someone steps very far from their comfort zone, Iny states they enter the “Zone of Destructive Anxiety.” Anxiety here is so great that it undermines success. Individuals must find a sweet spot between these two extremes, which Iny calls the “Ideal Zone for Growth.” In this zone, Iny notes that the level of anxiety can fuel learning and best improve performance, including during times of change.

If you are interested in business efficiency and project management strategies, consider pursuing a project management degree online. The New England College – Master of Science in Management – Project Management degree program has courses in change management and many other fascinating business leadership topics.