Change Leadership: Many Start but Few Finish Well

Organizational Change Management Strategies

Planning and Execution of Change

Most organizations have a leadership deficit because they ignore leadership potential and do not offer training or relevant role models.

When time is restrained and rewards are high, the most effective leaders count on their ranks to do what they do best. These leaders galvanize people to use their proficiency to solve problems and achieve goals.

Great leaders get others to move in a direction that is sensible for themselves, the business, and community. Today, we need more leaders who can help groups come up with visions that are not self-serving—visions that serve the entire enterprise.

Historically, great leaders are self-confident people who have extraordinary capacity to make decisions when others crumble. They are confident, but not arrogant. In fact, great leaders are often described as having humility and vulnerability. I am often struck by the extraordinary arrogance of some leaders—an arrogance that says, “I’m above the game. I am smart and accomplished. Therefore, I know what is best, yet I have to put up with stupid rules set by small-minded people. It’s only natural that I maneuver around those rules.” You do not find that same arrogance in great leaders.

For change to be good, it has to be in a positive direction. Initial stages of transformation are usually positive, but the change effort is perverted as it becomes successful and as executives become more arrogant. Change is not the issue; arrogance is. As some leaders start running into problems, in their arrogance they say, “No problem. We can handle all this. We can cut corners and make our own rules.”

Companies need to be able to exercise sound leadership when responding to a crisis. But what if you didn’t need to be eager to execute this style of strategic leadership?

'Organization Change Theory and Practice' by Warner Burke (ISBN 1506357997) In organizations with a strong brand, if you do not have senior leaders who are humble and vigilant, you develop an arrogant culture. The single biggest challenge in managing change is not strategy, structure, or culture, but just getting people to change their behavior. One reason why that is so challenging is that we rely on giving logical reasons for change but fail to present people an emotionally compelling case. People change their behavior only when they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings.

You need something visual that produces the emotions that motivate people to move toward the vision. Great leaders tell stories that create pictures in our minds and have emotional impact. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, not a strategy or goal, and he shoved us his dream, his picture of the future. People change when they see something visual (the vision) that touches their feelings, challenges their thinking, and incites actions. People may realize the need for change, but not do anything differently because they lack the passion to break out of routines or habit patterns. The momentum of “how we’ve done things” tends to make our future look like our past.

Principles and Theories of Organizational Change

Overcoming complacency—so vital at the start of change initiatives—often requires a bit of surprise, something that grabs attention at an emotional and intellectual level. You need to surprise people and disrupt their view that everything is perfect. Successful change leaders show people what the problems are and how to resolve the problems. They use images that people can see, hear, or touch. This may mean showing a video of an angry customer rather than a report of a customer survey. Change leaders make their points in ways that are emotionally engaging and compelling. They tell and retell vivid stories. You do not have to spend a million dollars and six months to prepare for a change effort. You do have to touch people emotionally.

The ability to move people emotionally is a special gift. Few of us are born with it, but we can learn it. In writing The Heart of Change, we found many people who had learned this skill. Some did not look like leaders, but somewhere along the way, they learned to speak to people’s feelings. One story involves people who realized that they had to start changing their own behavior. Many managers skip this part and start with, “Here’s how you need to change” because it is easier to tell other people that they are acting incorrectly than to admit that you are not perfect. Executives, as they become more successful, get less feedback or information showing how they are a part of the problem. Many of them have never learned the principle, always start with yourself first—and then go from there. It is a great rule of thumb.

Personal example is a powerful method of influence that can affect feelings and facilitate change. However, when leaders do not examine their own actions, they might give the wrong example, something that is inconsistent with what they are saying to people. People pay attention to deeds more than words.

All of us, deep in our hearts, want to be heroes, at least to our children or team members. Today we need heroes at every level. More people need to step up and provide change leadership. Most of this leadership will be modest. It might be a young sales rep who sees a new business opportunity or puts together a vivid demonstration of a problem. The sum of all these heroic actions—large and small—enables organizations to change in big ways.

Change Leadership: Many Start but Few Finish Well

Organizational Change Management Strategies

People need more positive examples of what works. In stories of what works, I never find a theme of self-preservation. Change leaders are not self-centered people. When focused only on yourself, you will not stick your neck out, lead the team to new glory, or create a shared win. You need a larger vision beyond saving your own skin. Several change proposals seem to presume that people will begin to shift their behaviors once formal elements like commands and encouragements get underway. People who work together on cross-functional teams will commence cooperating because the lines on the chart show they are intended to do so. Managers will become clear communicators because they have a mandate to deliver a message about the new strategy.

If you are frustrated and powerful, you tend to fall back on fear to motivate people. You say, “I know the right thing to do here, and you’ll either do it or be fired.” While using fear may be natural, it is usually ineffective. The only lesson your people learn is that you have power, and they need to fear being fired. They learn nothing about the enterprise, its challenges, and the need to do things differently. Fearful people do not listen carefully to customers. They hide or come up with schemes to protect themselves. Fear cannot drive transformation. However, fear may be used effectively as a surprise element. It is the “hit them upside the head with a board” approach to get attention. Then you have to quickly convert it into something positive or you get the drawbacks of fear.

Even if people are motivated to change, they are often blocked by a feeling or belief that they cannot change. Pessimism creates an emotional block to change. Effective change leaders use inspirational stories to bring out the natural optimism in everybody. They know how to inspire confidence, even in tough circumstances where people are depressed. They paint a hopeful picture in such a credible way that it soothes people and lead them to get out of the trenches to do something.

Managing Organizational Change

The change has to seep into the culture. The new behavior must maintain itself for a few weeks and show that it works. Then, the culture must support the change. For the new way of doing things to take hold, one change agent or leader cannot support it all. People need to see the right behavior producing the right results. Too often leaders assume that once they start the change effort, they are done. They must make it part of the culture; otherwise, when they leave, the old way creeps back in.

'Change Leader Learning to Do What Matters Most' by Michael Fullan (ISBN 0470582138) How can people stay focused long enough to create short-term wins and change the culture? This is where vision helps. If you have clarity in your mind and heartfelt commitment to a vision, you stay focused. Again, the vision has to be something you can see clearly—not some blur or list of unrelated items. So many strategies and statements of values, visions, and goals boil down to lists of unrelated items, making it hard to stay focused. Your focus bounces from one item to another because you lack a framework to guide you. You might let something else that is not on the list blow over you and push you in another direction.

You might carefully select two areas where you can achieve short-term successes and have one team focus on one item and another team focus on the other. People need to see that the changes are not oddball ideas being pushed by the boss. They need to see short-term wins that validate the change vision. If the win is clear, visible, and valuable to people, then they will likely make change happen.

To use this emotive energy, leaders must look for the constituents of the culture that are affiliated to the change, bring them to the foreground, and fascinate the attention of the people who will be affected by the change.

Communicating strategic intent empowers leaders to determine direction and noticeably defined goals. Leaders renounce from nit-picking the specific execution of the intent, but still hold their team members or subordinates answerable for change management.

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