Changes start with leadershipWritten by Eric Kurjan | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last month, I highlighted one of the CEO’s biggest challenges: the inevitability of change. This challenge has many layers and levels, and since it involves many individuals and teams, it’s much more complex than it appears.
Change is pervasive in our society and a fact of life in organizations. In fact, change is absolutely necessary for the survival of individuals and organizations. The question isn’t whether or not to implement change. Over the long run, you have no choice if you want your company to stay competitive, grow and succeed.
There are two types of change you can choose to introduce in your organization: tactical and strategic.
Tactical change occurs in the short term and more often than not is very short-lived. Unfortunately, many business leaders operate with the concept of “management by best-seller.” It is not to say that there are not good business books to gain ideas and processes. It is more a situation in which the leader reaches out and grasps the book’s concept or the “fad du jour” (e.g., one-minute manager, management by objectives, TQM, etc.)
Then the next day, he or she grasps at the next new idea and whipsaws the organization with inconsistent messages and inconsequential behavior. This attempt to manage change will not result in the outcome the leader desires.
Strategic change is about understanding and communicating the CEO’s vision to drive fundamental aspects of the organization, including the organization’s direction, its culture and its ability to execute on the strategy. Strategic change is long-term and is much harder to implement. As a result, it also has the most significant enduring impact on an organization’s future.
How does a major change take hold and become infused throughout the organization?
Create the vision. Successful change is hinged on a picture of a desirable future. Without a clear vision, change efforts can dissolve into a list of confusing projects that take the organization in the wrong direction. It’s important that the vision be clear and easy to communicate.
Create a sense of urgency. If people think that the organization is doing fine, there will be little motivation for change. Successful change starts when everyone takes a hard look at the organization’s competitive situation, market position, technological advances and performance, and realizes that “if nothing changes, nothing changes.”
Communicate the vision. Getting the word out is key. Change is not possible unless people are willing to help. Speeches, posters and newsletters help communicate the vision, but the most powerful medium is the behavior of the leaders in the organization. Very visible executive-level leaders must behave in ways that are consistent with the vision.
Manage the planning and execution processes. The key to turning a strategic vision into reality comes from linking the strategy to the daily activities of every team member, assigning accountability, creating timelines to the vision for change and then working the plan. Changes and revisions to the strategic plan will be necessary, but if the strategic leader doesn’t insure that the vision for change evolves into a plan for specific action, the vision will just sit in a three-ring binder on a dusty shelf.
Plan to overcome resistance. Anyone who has ever been in an organization knows that even small amounts of expected change lead to decreased organizational effectiveness. Change suggests letting go of old habits, roles, processes, procedures and structure. There is uncertainty about new requirements and excessive concern about the future. All of this results in anxiety, stress, conflict and resistance. Failure by the strategic leader to understand the causes for and results of resistance can lead to the outright failure in adopting the change.
Overall, change sticks when it becomes part of the organization’s culture; it becomes part of “the way we do things around here.” There are four techniques for institutionalizing change. Show people how the change has helped improve performance and competitive advantage. Communicate to the people the connections between individual efforts and the resulting improvements. Allow the people to participate in the process. And most importantly, you must walk the talk.
Eric Kurjan is the president of Six Disciplines Northwest Ohio. Six Disciplines brings “big company” process improvement to organizations looking to break beyond the status quo. For more information, visit www.SixDisciplines.com/Toledo or call (419) 581-2823.