Much has been said about the need for committed leadership to drive successful change. Nonetheless, accounts like the following, which I recently heard from a colleague, are all too common.
“A senior manager goes to some seminar and hears about some fad that is supposed to improve efficiency. And, as soon as he gets back, he throws it over the fence to us. The guidance is, ‘Go do this. It’s great.’ That’s all we hear.”
Without diligent leadership, the proposed change creates added work, mixed with a measure of uncertainty, and then fades away.
Seemingly random, apparently faddish, initiatives that lack the requisite leadership and resources hardly appear like a serious change employees need to support. At best, they come across as a temporary overlay to "real work." Their only lasting effect may be to leave employees cynical about any real change in their organization.
Management involvement is a key lever of change. It is important for managers to frame the vision, provide the tools, monitor and reward the results, and make course corrections, when necessary, for a change initiative to be successful. For example, Peer Advocacy and Committed Leadership describes the power of peer-to-peer communication when it is backed by unambiguous leadership along with infrastructure and rewards for the initiative.
Vision, Commitment and Inclusion give examples that contrast the powerful influence wielded by consistent leadership with the corrosive effect of lip service. Managers’ conviction and commitment is a prerequisite to the success of a change initiative. However, the widely quoted statistic that 70% of initiatives fail is an indication that the situation painted in my colleague’s account mentioned above, is far from unique.
Change initiatives are about preparing for the future needs of an organization, but they have to be implemented while balancing the current business performance. Maintaining the balance is not trivial, and it requires commitment to both endeavors. Dedication to both is a Herculean (if not impossible) task—unless each initiative is aligned with the organization’s long-term objectives. First, this means choosing your change initiatives carefully. Identify and select those initiatives that are consistent with or support your strategic goals - the more explicit the tie to strategy, the better. Clear alignment to future goals clarifies the reason for the initiative and gives an incentive for involvement, from the beginning. Further, fully implementing the initiative makes it clear that the organization is serious about change.
Finally, delivering and measuring the benefits and making sure they are widely recognized gives confidence in the next initiative. Throwing an initiative “over the fence” is hardly a sign that it is needed for the company’s future.
When the change initiative and the long-term strategy are aligned, leaders can demonstrate the irrevocable commitment that is needed to engage employees in the initiative and foster their commitment.
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.