How can quality professionals become successful change leaders?
Change Leadership Process schematic by KnowledgeBrief (KBM)
The Baldrige Criteria defines change management as a leadership-induced process that involves transformational organizational change that leadership controls and sustains. It requires dedication, involvement of employees at all levels, and constant communication. Transformational change is strategy-driven and stems from the top of the organization. Its origin may be from needs identified within the organization and it requires active engagement of the whole organization.
McKinsey & Company states that, “Change management as it is traditionally applied is outdated. 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support. We also know that when people are truly invested in change it is 30 percent more likely to stick.”
My 35+ years of experience is that the effective change leader possesses 3 critical skills:
- Project management
The effective change leader must be able to communicate a compelling business case for change and a clear call to action throughout the organization: up, down and across. The change effort should be in alignment with the organization’s vision, values and strategic plan. The change initiative must be communicated regularly with a clearly understood strategy, with action plans and key metrics that are cascaded and deployed down to each department and individual. Change progress must be consistently measured and frequently reported against the established goals or targets.
The effective change leader demonstrates strong facilitation, influence and collaboration skills necessary to build support, remove barriers and reduce resistance to change. The change leader must be able to enhance/ build the Systems & Structures necessary to drive the required change, reward desired behaviors and prevent organizational backsliding. The effective change leader identifies the key stakeholders and implements influence strategies to gain their support in helping to “model the behaviors that create the experiences needed to change beliefs resulting in actions that deliver expected results” (The Oz Principle: Culture of Accountability). An all-too-often over-looked influencer is the organization’s “Keyhub” – those employees not part of the official managerial org chart, but whose experience/opinion/ insight is highly sought and respected among his/her peers, colleagues and subordinates. The identification of and collaboration with the keyhub is an important networking strategy to help lead successful change efforts in any organization.
The effective change leader must be able to marshal the resources and competencies necessary to support the change, adapt to challenges, and keep the change project on schedule and in budget. The change leader should follow a formalized change strategy or framework incorporating the methods, tools and technical assistance necessary to lead the process and coach the people through change. Three common models of a change management process are:
Change is hard only because maintaining status quo is easy. Doing things even a little differently requires cognitive energy! Because most people are pretty busy, there has to be a clear payoff to invest that extra energy in changing, even if the change is simple.
Becoming a successful change leader means helping people find the reasons to invest that energy on their own. First, find the source of resistance (if there is one) and do what you can to remove it. Second, try co-creation instead of feedback to build solutions. Here’s what I mean.
Find Sources of Resistance
In 1983, information systems researcher M. Lynne Markus wanted to figure out why certain software implementations, “designed at great cost of time and money, are abandoned or excessively overhauled because they were unenthusiastically received by their intended users.” Nearly 40 years later, enterprises still occasionally run into the same issue, even though Software as a Service (SaaS) models can (to some extent) reduce this risk.
Before her research started, she found these themes associated with resistance (they will probably feel familiar to you even today):
- To avoid resistance, get top management support and obtain user involvement in the design process
- Technically sound systems are less likely to be resisted than those with frequent downtime and poor response time
- Users resist systems that are not “user friendly” (assertions by EDP equipment vendors);
- All other things being equal, people will resist change (receive wisdom);
- People will resist an application when the costs outweigh the benefits (receive wisdom).
By studying failed software implementations in finance, she uncovered three main sources for the resistance. So as a change leader, start out by figuring out if they resonate, and then apply one of the remedies on the right:
As you might imagine, this third category (the “political version of interaction theory”) is the most difficult to solve. If a new process or system threatens someone’s power or position, they are unlikely to admit it, it may be difficult to detect, and it will take some deep counseling to get to the root cause and solve it.
Co-Creation Over Feedback
Imagine this: a process in your organization is about to change, and someone comes to you with a step-by-step outline of the new proposed process. “I’d like to get your feedback on this,” he says.
That’s nice, right? Isn’t that exactly what’s needed to ensure smooth management of change? You’ll give your feedback, and then when it’s time to adopt the process, it will go great – right?
In short, NO.
For change to be smooth and effective, people have to feel like they’re part of the process of developing the solution. Although people might feel slightly more comfortable if they’re asked for their thoughts on a proposal, the resultant solution is not theirs — in fact, their feedback might not even be incorporated into it. There’s no “skin in the game.”
In contrast, think about a scenario where you get an email or an invitation to a meeting. “We need to create a new process to decide which of our leads we’ll follow up on, and evaluate whether we made the right decision. We’d like it to achieve [the following goals]. We have to deal with [X, Y and Z] boundary conditions, which we can’t change due to [some factors that are well articulated and understandable].”
You go to the meeting, and two hours later all the stakeholders in the room have co-created a solution. What’s going to happen when it’s time for that process to be implemented? That’s right — little or no resistance. Why would anyone resist a change that they thought up themselves?
Find the resistance, cast it out, and co-create solutions. But don’t forget the most important step: recognizing that perfection is not always perfect. (For quality professionals, this one can be kind of tough to accept at times.)
What this means is: in situations where change is needed, sometimes it’s better to adopt processes or practices that are easier or more accessible for the people who do them. Processes that are less efficient can sometimes be better than processes that are more efficient, if the difference has to do with ease of learning or ease of execution. Following these tips will help you help others take some of the pain out of change.
In order to lead efforts to improve the management of an organization understanding how people will react to change is critical. For that reason I have written about change management often on this blog since I started publishing it in 2004.
In, Why Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?, I wrote:
It seems that if there were better ways to manage, people would adopt those methods. But this just isn’t the case; sometimes better methods will be adopted but often they won’t. People can be very attached to the way things have always been done. Or they can just be uncomfortable with the prospect of trying something new.
Lead change efforts requires paying attention to the existing conditions: the culture, the motivation to adopt this change and/or the motivation to resist it, the history of change where the change is being attempted and the reasons the change is desired (by at least you and hopefully others). And then you need to build a case for the change and manage the process.
In some case it isn’t that complicated, there is interest in the change from a critical mass of people, the change isn’t that difficult, the advantages are obvious to many people and no one has a strong interest in resisting the change (that has the power to make adopting the change difficult). In that case you are lucky, but that is often not the case, even though many attempts to change are managed with the hope that no real effort will be needed to get the change adopted.
Those that successfully lead change efforts know when to invest the effort in getting the change adopted. They study (and often can sense) where the effort will need to be placed in this particular effort and plan ahead to support the adoption of the change and to avoid problems that can greatly set back the efforts to improve the existing system.
And they put effort into creating a culture that will make change efforts easier going forward. We need continual improvement of how we work and that requires continual change. We need to build systems that support that and coach people so they are comfortable with that.
I included some ideas on how to grow your circle of influence: which would be useful development strategies for someone seeking to become a successful change leader.
Communication is an Important Part of Any Change Effort
I believe the best way to communicate such changes is to explain how they tie into the long term vision of the organization. This requires that such a vision actually exists (which is often not the case). Then all strategies are communicated based on how they support and integrate with that vision. In addition that communication strategy incorporates an understanding about what weaknesses with past practices are addressed by this new strategy.
Often organizations have a poor history with failed change efforts, and the larger the effort the more likely it was to have been problematic. Pretending that poor history doesn’t exist and being surprised by resistance to change is not a sensible way to manage. But it is a common one. Instead, to be successful, after past failed efforts, show that you know the history and have learned from it and are taking steps to make this change effort more successful than past efforts.
Change Management – Post Change Evaluation and Action
There are many reasons the change may need to be iterated over to adapt it to different conditions. The important factor, that is far too often overlooked, is to collect evidence on the result of the change as it is deployed and to study that evidence to determine if the improvement is able to be deployed more broadly without modification. It may be that you learn more PDSA is needed as part of the process to deploy it more broadly.
Using the PDSA is an extremely valuable tool to aid change efforts. The process of using it requires you to evaluate the success of the change after the change is deployed. That may seem an obvious thing to do, but it often is not done. And often those in the work know nothing improved and become more cynical about any future change attempts. But those charged with leading the change effort often have incentives to move on and ignore the results.
To help create a culture that value continual improvement find projects that would be good candidates for visible success that matters. Use the ideas here and in the linked posts to make those efforts successful and then build on those successes.
If this is done right the organization will continually grow the ability to improve and successfully adopt changes that are worthwhile. Your job of leading change efforts will get easier (though you might take on much bigger and more complex changes so that can again add challenges and keep you engaged).
Many companies around the world are moving towards an agile way of work to be able to tackle constant changes and capture the opportunities those changes bring. As per a survey done by McKinsey 37 percent of respondents said their organizations are carrying out company-wide agile transformations. Why? Because today the only constant is change. “Agile organizations can develop products five times faster, make decisions three times faster, and reallocate resources adroitly and quickly” based on the research “Leading agile transformation: The new capabilities leaders need to build 21st-century organizations”.
So the question now is, what is the role of the leader in these agile organizations? Agile companies work in small teams that are multidisciplinary and autonomous, some don’t have leaders, some simply have facilitators to ensure successful interactions among team members, suppliers and customers. New leaders need to let go of micromanaging the day-to-day activities to become success facilitators. They will set a long-term vision, promote interaction across the organization, provide support to unleash team member’s idea and define priorities.
Leaders are no longer “bosses” of the people on their team, customers are. That’s why structures in agile companies flatten to:
– Allow fast and online communication top down, bottom up and inside out.
– Facilitate fast decision making within the team, without the need to wait for management approval
– Ensure everybody is connected to the customer needs, and the needs of each of the team members
In agile companies, everybody can become a change leader within their teams, depending on the task at hand, so everybody needs to be trained to CARE for their team, through four main habits:
- Connect: Communicate the vision, values and objectives that drive the team and build the network of stakeholders required. Team members how decide the best way to accomplish the goals.
- Ask: ask more questions at the front-line to deeply understand results, instead of advocating opinion or direction. Analyze risks and always look for outside-in perspectives from the customers to make decisions with the team.
- Respect: Build confidence and trust, foster open communication and respect differences in the workforce to allow multidisciplinary teams to thrive. Strengths, skills and ideas work at their best when relationships are based on mutual acceptance.
- Empower: Prioritize objectives visually, build systems and team routines, promote self-discipline and time management and encourage immediate problem-solving. Avoid constant updates, briefings, micromanagement, and approvals, all very costly.
How can an individual become a successful Change Leader?
Every organization or institution has to deal with change. No one can hide or run from it. In the last couple of years the world has been changing at a rapid pace.
Normally, accepting change and going through the change process is NOT easy. Change is very hard for humans to accept (it’s human nature), to get everyone on board is a big challenge. The success of change depends upon the people, so everyone is important.
To manage, and/or coordinate the whole change process, effective leadership is one of the main components necessary to achieve a successful transition. For me personally, it is the KEY to success.
Which leadership skills contribute to someone becoming a successful Change Leader?
Communication is one of the most important skills in becoming a successful Change Leader. A successful Change Leader is one that can communicate, but also LISTEN to the group. The listening part is very important, it is the moment to get information, feedback, or possible ideas in order to improve: TOGETHER.
Always communicate WHY we need the change, WHAT is going to change, and the impact the change is going to have. The benefits that change can have for the organization, and for the whole group. Open and honest communication helps a successful change leader gain the trust of the group, and in its turn it will help the overall change process.Maintain a communication strategy, and always check if it is actually working.
Bring everybody together (teamwork) to make decisions, plan (encourage the employees to be innovative, creative) and execute. This is so critical. That feeling of being part of the process gives everyone a sense of pride. A positive organizational culture motivates the group, and that sense of belonging to the organization inspires loyalty.
It strengthens their commitment. This results in no or almost no resistance to the change process. Everyone is important. Fix small team problems on the way, otherwise it will have a negative impact on the whole process.
A successful Change Leader shows his commitment to the change. Be a role model. Maintain control over the whole process: identify and focus on priorities. Maintain a clear purpose.
His or her behavior / beliefs is important to the rest of the group.
If the leader doesn’t believe, or doesn’t commit, it will have a negative impact on the change process, therefore the chance of FAILURE is extremely high.
If there is No effective leadership present, effectively implanting change will almost definitely fail.
A successful Change Leader has to remember that:
- Leading change is not a ONE man job.
- He has to believe in the team
- Motivate the team
- Be a role model
- Pass responsibilities to other leaders in the group
- Has to obtain a collection of skills to keep on top of change.
- And also: listen to the group