Viewing Posts by Steve Salisbury
How to drive greater value by listening
During my years in corporate America, I sat in lots of meetings. I often marveled at how some of my peers could bloviate their opinions. They appeared confident and seemed persuasive in advocating their position.
One of my peers was particularly skilled at this. Joe (fictitious name) seemed to have the attention of senior leaders as he moved up quickly through the ranks. Employees who worked for Joe liked him. I recall more than once sitting around the lunch table where his employees talked about how great it was to work for Joe. In the end, though, Joe did not make it through multiple reorganizations and restructurings conducted to streamline the operations. What happened?
I spoke with a few of Joe’s former employees sometime later. They told me that they liked Joe because he gave them attention their previous managers hadn’t. Much of their 1-on-1 meetings consisted of Joe telling them how the organization would have to change, describing excellent leadership of change. Joe did not, however, affect any real change himself. He was a great announcer of change, but not an enabler of change. He was ineffective in bringing his employees along on the change journey.
The big lesson? Don’t confuse influential advocacy for change with making it happen. The latter requires that you listen to employees to help gauge their progress through change and offer strategies to help them along.
Here are a few things I counsel my executive clients:
Leaders who follow this recipe for listening will be more successful with change, therefore increasing the value of the change project to the organization.
One of my clients attempted to drive a large transformation with no consideration for the impact on front-line employees. They did not even provide training for employees to know how to operate in the new culture. I came in afterward to help them reshape the project, sought to engage the front-line, and helped them drive greater success.
Conversely, wise executives think about how employees will operate in the new environment. They find ways to engage the front-line to implement the change. These leaders consider three factors:
Cooperation: In 2019, you would think that organizational culture had progressed to a point where leaders treat front-line employees with basic respect. After all, it is the front line who operates the company every day. Command and control management styles are on the way out. True leaders seek to cooperate with the front-line employees to help drive the change. They recognize they need the front-line to be successful if the company is to be successful.
Resistance: Resistors often provide some of the best input for a project. First, they provide reasons why the change won’t work. They reveal risks you might not have otherwise known. Second, if you can convert resistors into supporters, they can be some of your most ardent advocates for change.
Fun: I’ve seen leaders hold creative events to help promote the change. One used interactive games and relevant puzzles in a one-day, off-site pre-launch meeting. Another senior executive took the entire project team to a White Sox game (they won!). Another leader took her team through a cooking class the evening before an all-day off-site. These events build comradery and a sense of team – founded on a basis of interpersonal trust and commitment, which helps unite the team toward the common project goal.
Front-line engagement results in more effective change. It generates ideas, buy-in, and acceptance. People simply work harder when they are part of the process instead of having a process forced upon them. Wouldn’t you?
Quite frequently I hear project managers or change agents on a project team express concern about a lack of sponsorship for their projects. When I ask them what they need, however, they don’t always know how to articulate their concerns into a tangible need that an executive can act upon.
Sponsors play three important roles.
Participating directly in the project: Sponsors hold people accountable to adapt to the change. They work with their staff to ensure people are ready for the change. Sponsors allocate staff, training, or other resources as required. They also remove barriers to change by resolving issues and helping the organization adapt to risk.
Engage other sponsors. Great sponsors engage other leaders to buy into and support the change. They build relationships across the organization to drive success. Sponsors equip other sponsors with communications, resources or other tools to help accomplish the purpose of the change.
Communicate broadly throughout the organization. In my experience, this is the most overlooked yet often one of the easiest actions sponsors can take to affect change. They look for opportunities to talk about the change, the value of the change, and how the organization should engage to embrace the change. They also talk about the risk of not changing and the impact this might have on the organization’s long-term viability. Effective sponsors engage others in this dialog. It’s important that they not only share information, but that they listen to how the change is impacting their teams. This feedback can be a powerful influence, giving employees a method of adjusting how the change is implemented.
If you are a project manager or play a role as a change agent on a project team, be sure your sponsor is fulfilling these responsibilities. Oftentimes, sponsors need help understanding their role in change. Most sponsors are smart leaders, but they have a full-time job running an organization and do not always know the details regarding how to support a change. You can help identify risks and issues. You provide insight to the sponsor about where greater engagement might be needed. You can also with communications, aligning leaders, and engaging the front-line in deploying the change.
It takes a village, as they say, and between well-equipped, active sponsors, and change agents on the project team, you have a much greater chance to enjoy success.
“Just plan the project through go-live!”
I recently had a conversation with a colleague working on a major transformation for a well-known Fortune 50. She told me that she was expressly told to only plan for work up through the launch of the change. This is a big mistake; let me explain.
After I built and moved into my new home years ago, the builder presented me with a certificate explaining that the construction carried with it a five-year guarantee. They would take care of anything that went wrong with the house. Period. In the first few weeks I found a few minor issues. One door wasn’t closing correctly, and the builder promptly came out to repair it. Another time while I was away for the weekend, my son decided to enjoy an afternoon on the back porch and grilled up a juicy T-bone steak. He forgot to move the grill away from the house and voila, we had about 20 square feet of melted siding. My builder replaced the siding at no charge.
When you make an investment in a transformation, it’s likely that you will spend much more than I did building this house. Yet many project managers consider their work done when the transformation is launched. Who is going to be around to make sure the change is institutionalized? How do you ensure that people permanently adopt the change and alter the way they need to work? How will you know that you are receiving the greatest value for your investment? Depending on the nature of the transformation, there are numerous ways you can ensure the systematic adoption of the change.
Putting these features in place will help you achieve the value you had planned, and in many cases, will drive even greater value. This greater value results from you paying more attention to the change far beyond that initial launch, and your employees finding ways to implement improvements beyond those originally planned.
How transformational leadership and organizational change management work together to drive phenomenal results
Working for years with senior executives driving transformational change, I’ve observed that sometimes leaders jump directly from strategy to execution without doing necessary preparation to activate and accelerate implementation within their organization. This preparation requires transformational leadership skills to transition from strategy to execution. I have also observed that organizational change management (OCM) cannot take the place of or make up for a lack of transformational leadership.
Leaders use OCM to provide a structured approach to leading the organization through a transformation or a large-scale change. There are, however, several prerequisites necessary for OCM to be successful. These are elements of transformational leadership.
With these elements in place, a strong OCM plan can be established and executed. OCM leverages these elements by providing and executing:
All of this combines to create a winning formula to drive phenomenal success, often exceeding targets.
Call to action: As you consider your next transformation, think about these points. Have you done the work necessary to prepare your organization – starting with your leadership team – to drive success? Have you activated the team and set the stage to accelerate the work?