In today’s climate, everyone is jumping on the Change bandwagon. A Holistic/Substantive Change Leader has to be able to participate in more than just a component of Change. Real Change permeates to the core – it impacts and touches people’s lives, beliefs, cognitive/behavioral and psycho-analytical perspectives. It has to impact our boundary, authority, role and it challenges the task of the organisation and its people.
About four years ago in Fontainebleau, I realised that over the last 2 decades, my style of leadership was of a Change Catalyst Leadership Archetypal style (Kets de Vries, 2014). As with each style of leadership, each comes with successes and challenges. Having been an internal Change Agent (and now an external Change Catalyst) I will share with you - "5 Tips to Overcome the Unspoken Barriers to Succeed in Change”
1. A CEO has to overcome the Old Guards
A Chairman of a leading hospital asked me if he should fire his CEO since he is an “old guard”. This question captures the essence of what many leaders may face - which is the inability to move as they are surrounded by old guards who are in their comfort zone and stand to lose out more if there is Change. Is the CEO doomed? Not necessarily.
Firstly, that CEO needs to be aware of his predicament – then he needs to (i) access diverse views from internal and external sounding boards, (ii) do his on-the-ground checks so as to not to lose touch with the business, (iii) develop strong strategic support to know his people and identify the right Change Leaders across the organisation (both internally and/or externally) who are best suited to drive the Change, (iv) leverage an external Change accelerator(s) to accelerate and embed the Change and (v) (most importantly) that CEO may need to be prepared to undergo Change him/shelf in order to lead by example– i.e. by showing demonstrable Change in himself/ herself.
2. Be Prepared To Reset
In building their models to accumulate financial and human capital, Founders eventually build the kind of organisation that reflect the social structure of the founding period which is not necessarily the kind of organisation that is ready to compete in today’s environment (Marquis C, 2013).
Often organization leadership can lack confidence, time and boldness to orchestrate real Change to define and design (like a Change Architect) a new organisation imprint if Change has already been left too late and the organisation is heading into a “danger zone” of non-sustainability.
Often the hurdle to successful Change is because the internal Change strategy leader sticks too closely to the original strategy without considering other strategic options - due to his/her “closeness” to the subject matter. He needs a sounding board and a trusted partner to see the “woods from the trees” – an external Change consultant can play a critical support role to provide the objectivity and planning support that such a Change leader requires. Their collaboration is thus critical in bringing Change to execution in an end-to-end change execution plan to deliver towards the intended objective(s) of that organisation.
3. Never Choose to Walk the Change Path Alone
I once moved forward alone with implementing Change due to management (i.e. headquarters) and timeline pressures for an existing team in an emerging market – this involved embedding the Change agenda while awaiting the resources to arrive globally. It was a mergers and acquisitions exercise which involved redefining the strategic plan, restructuring teams and redefining boundaries, structures and roles. Human Resource from headquarters was not able to bring in the reinforcements in time to help implement the strategic Change agenda nor was it able to provide timely constructive solutions. Those employees who were not supportive of the Change agenda produced a “poison pen” letter - which is a common tactic and an easy way to resist, delay and/or derail the Change momentum. I survived the impact of such a manoeuvre through leveraging on my core strength of relationship-building and care and not focusing just on pure functional expertise improvements. I managed to “convert” the mastermind of the “poison pen” letter to later become one of the key Change Agents. It was lonely and dangerous time because the organisation was not prepared for the Change and I had leaders who would prefer to flee rather than to support the Change agenda.
I want to ensure that the Internal Change leaders survive the Change and are protected – through proper organisational and leadership support as well as appropriate M&A integration management. In many cases such support can only come through the restructuring the Human Resource function so that it supports the business and is directly accountable to it e.g. creating teams like “Human Resource Business Partners”. These are dedicated teams that report to Business Partner(s) in order to support the Change agenda or report to the designated external Human Resource “Change Consultant Change Business Partners”. External consultants can come in to reinforce weak regional Human Resource teams and operate Human resource in local markets that are not able to bring in the right specialist talent to deliver the Change business plan.
4. Have an External Change Collaborator to Integrate, Co-ordinate and Accelerate the Change
One common CEO lament is “I am pulling all the right levers but nothing seems to be happening”.Often, functional heads and leaders who operate in the same roles for more than 3 years lose their fresh perspective and their “cutting” edge skills and knowledge due to new changes that are taking place outside of the organization - which they lose touch with. This is especially so if the organisation does not have a strong learning culture and/or is existing in a “comfort zone”. Hence (for example) a project to drive mental leadership in marketing towards new edge IT or Omni-channel initiatives (intended to raise the bar in order to serve new consumer journey) can become stuck when there is a common cross-functional requirement - because even if one functional leader is willing to drive that Change - he may still not succeed if (i) he is not able to get the project integrated and supported holistically by the organisation and its people and/or (ii) the initial intent of the Change becomes lost as a result of that leader being “too close” to the project. There are so many stories of “Digitalisation Specialist(s)” being brought into organisations with much fanfare only for the project to remain stuck or failing to deliver the intended KPIs.
Therefore, in such situations, if the matter is left to the internal team, this may never get resolved - unless the CEO actively sits into key Change meetings (which may be impractical) or the CEO drives the Change agenda through with his appointed Change agents cross functionally.
5. To ensure the Crowd is behind the Change, deliver early success
Change is not about transforming an organisation alone. The core part is transforming the people who work in it – to change behavior we must first change believes. Major Change and transformation projects of people and organisations are long journeys, people not only get tired along the way, but they can also get lost.
Aside from needing to establish and position the right Change Agents vertically and horizontally across the organization and setting and tracking of KPIs with clear and strong communication – another key success factor is to be able to break down the Change Agenda to a bite size targets by identifying “low hanging” fruits. These will allow the organisation to show actual early successes as leverage to keep everyone motivated along the Change journey.
Wong Mei Wai is the Founder & Chief Change Catalyst of AGA ( APAC Global Advisory), a Change Consultancy that brings branded businesses to the next stage of growth through three key Change solutions – i.e. Change Architects, Change Marketing and Change Services involving People. She shares her 2 decades of learning from Hands-on global Change projects of unspoken areas of challenges of internal Change Agents and the support she would have valued at that time. AGA has been supporting and accelerating Change globally to fill those Gaps.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your Change Challenges. She is part of the INSEAD Business School Alumni for AMP and the Executive Masters in Change.
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