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Whose Example Is It, Anyway?

  • Whose Example Is It, Anyway?

As a change leader, success depends on engaging employees and motivating them to become advocates of the new initiative. This is where the Seven Levers of Change come into play. The levers are meant to be used in combination, to engage and encourage employee support for the new initiative. Some levers are extremely important, but none is a panacea. A couple of them can be dangerous if used carelessly. (See, Some Interactions or A Success Story). I want to use this post to talk about one lever that is always needed: leading by example.

The example set by the change leader can set the stage for effective implementation. The first requirement is to clarify the reason for the change, the dangers of not changing, and the path to get there. Any ambiguity—whether it is an unclear vision of the end state, the rollout schedule or expected affects on people’s jobs—will undermine the value of the change in the eyes of employees and can lead to apathy or even resistance.

Good Leaders...No leader has all the answers. In fact, getting perspectives from front-line employees, who have to implement the new ways of working, can strengthen the change. However, it also opens the door for potential disagreement. Stifling disagreement is a hazardous path, which is likely to create resistance to the change. Setting safe boundaries in which disagreements can be aired provides a platform for problems and new ideas to be heard and, if appropriate, heeded. In one company culture, it might be better to use private or even anonymous methods to raise concerns, while in another a discussion in an open forum might be more effective. Either way, an avenue for recognizing concerns and addressing them when appropriate is key.

Consider a technology firm that was forced to reduce its benefit package due to market changes. Leadership made the case for clear; employees understood that everyone would be affected and that the alternative would certainly be job losses. They set out a plan involving the entire benefit package and requested feedback via one of three methods: an anonymous suggestion box, face-to-face conversations, or email. After processing the feedback, some changes remained exactly as planned and the employees understood why. Others were made more flexible, allowing employees to choose options according to their needs. There was pain in this change, but employees felt heard and were ready—as a team—to move forward together through the market changes.

Other decisions that set an example for employees are demonstrating how much experimentation with the change is acceptable. What are consequences of failing with the new processes or technology? Are processes in place to learn from experimentation and potential failures? Are employees rewarded and recognized for experimentation that improves the implementation?

The level of involvement described here is not trivial. It demands leadership commitment: to set the course, monitor progress, seek and process feedback, and make course corrections as necessary. Yet this commitment is the impetus to drive employees toward engagement and advocacy for a change initiative.

Tags: Leading by Example, Seven Levers of Change

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.

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