A Balancing Act
A clear view of the end-state helps people get onboard with a new idea — something well known in the consumer behavior and marketing arena.
For example, a fitness chain or a diet club boosts the interest of potential members by focusing on a vision of lifelong health or a fantastic body image rather than describing daily workouts or highly structured food choices. This works for consumer marketing because after the customer is sold on the membership, it becomes his or her own responsibility to implement the vision. Not so for an organizational change initiative.
Implementing a change initiative is much more of a balance — between leadership and followership. A compelling, long-term vision is a key part of leadership. It grounds the meaning and effect of the initiative within the organization. It gives employees a good sense of what to expect when the initiative is implemented. It also helps people understand how the change affects their work as well as their role in the organization. Vision is a necessary but not sufficient to get employees fully onboard as effective followers.
Effective, committed followers trust that leaders are fully behind the initiative and will guide it through implementation. An implementation strategy, with a concrete roll out plan, can set the foundation of the trust. Aligning the organization with the implementation strategy by—making sure that planning, budgeting, measuring outcomes, and evaluating employee performance all line up with the vision—increases trust that leaders are fully behind the change. Pilot projects to test ideas in the vision and plans to learn from them helps demonstrate leadership that, in turn, engenders followership engagement.
Providing the support to ensure employees can be successful with the change further builds trust and commitment. This includes providing tools, technology, processes, or needed skills training. It also means rewarding and celebrating successes that move the initiative forward. Consistent, two-way communication of both successes and challenges is essential. This includes making sure employees are safe to raise concerns. No leader is omniscient. Employee concerns may identify obstacles so they can be addressed before they grow into big problems. Knowing that they have an influence on the initiative itself or on its implementation builds employee commitment.
While an abstract vision of a desired end-state may be enough to sell someone on a product, implementing a change requires a balancing act of leadership and followership. Leaders who develop a compelling vision, outline a well planned roll out strategy, and make sure employees have the necessary tools engender follower commitment and tip the balance toward success.
About the Author
Dr. Andrea Shapiro
Andrea Shapiro, PhD, is founder and principal of Strategy Perspective. She brings a unique perspective to organizational change based on experience in software development, business modeling, management, and organizational learning and development. Andrea designed and developed the Tipping Point computer simulation, which forms the heart of the Change, Dialogue, and Action Workshop. She has delivered the Workshop to major corporations, non-profits, and government agencies in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has accredited hundreds of change leaders and consultants to deliver the workshop worldwide in their own work in organizational change. Her book Creating Contagious Commitment gives detailed real-life examples, theory, and background, all of which will appeal to any manager faced with implementing a significant organizational change.
After earning master’s degrees in mathematics and psychology and a doctorate in behavioral decision making, Andrea went on to further studies at the Coaches Institute and the MIT Sloan Business School executive education program in system dynamics. She has also served on the Graduate Faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and taught decision making at Pfeiffer University’s graduate program in organizational management. Andrea can be reached through StrategyPerspective.com or you can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.