One of the most complicated areas of leadership is the skill required to truly produce change. The need for change often comes about because of a crisis and frequently the focal point is on financial performance. Major change may be caused by a sustained competitive attack, the integration of two organizations after a merger, or possibly initiating a new approach to your business after being acquired.
When leaders recognize change is essential for progress, they must look to the surrounding atmosphere–it is key to whether they will be successful.
Leaders must first develop political consensus. An initial step is to sit down and gauge those inside the organization who will likely embrace and work for the change and those in the organization who will resist the change–either because they don’t believe its validity or they just generally don’t like change. Enlist those who support the change to help with the transformation. Look to switch out individuals who are dead set against the change.
Second, build an organization that has a broad coalition of individuals who can help make the change happen. It is not only important to have proponents of the change at the top of the organization, but strong supporters need to be spread among key positions throughout the organization. Initiating a significant change is more than a one-person job and requires careful selection of team players.
Third, selectively establish task force teams to work on change initiatives that affect organizational sub-units. Selection of the team leader that supports the change initiative is very important, but selection of team participants who can understand the issues is equally crucial. The leader of the team needs to unabashedly support the need for the change but also be skilled at running meetings, managing conflict, and engaging the team in constructive problem solving.
Fourth, make changes that will be symbolic but will drive home the notion of change. This symbolic but noticeable change may take the form of moving to another location, selling a high-rise office, and settling into a completely different type of space. Another example could be changing some of the rituals or establishing a new ritual that will highlight the symbol of the “new” organization. The important outcome is that the change is dramatic and reinforces subconsciously that the organization is moving ahead differently and all should hop on board.
There are many more components to having a successful change initiative be successful. (See “Leveraging Multiple Change Initiatives” below by my colleague, Jim Canterucci.
Change is hard work and is emotionally draining. During my long career, I have been involved with more than five downsizings and or mergers that required us to have a burst of energy to reconfigure the organization and redesign the operating procedures. All of these change initiatives involved displacement of employees, which, to me, was the most painful aspect of any change initiative.
During this economic downturn, change initiatives are running rampant throughout organizations as they struggle to adjust their operations to the economic environment and react to the dearth in financing capacity. Change is a time that brings much stress to the business and the individuals inside those organizations. The job of every leader is to minimize the negative impact of this stress. As Jim points out in his article, communication is one of the most important components to all change initiatives. Think carefully about this need and construct a methodology that allows communications to be orderly, frequent, and clear. If you adopt these principles, you will go a long way towards making your change initiatives successful.
Now ask yourself…am I a leader?