How to advocate for change and simultaneously engage your organization

A few weeks ago, I introduced three topics to help leaders better understand how to lead change. This week we’ll talk about how to effectively advocate for your change and engage your organization in the process.

As a leader, you are busy. Board meetings. Stakeholder meetings. Analyst meetings. There is so much to do. Yet you are in the middle of a large transformational change and you sense you need to do more to help your organization.

You are effective in advocating for the change. You talk frequently about the Why, What and How of the transformation (see March 30, 2017, blog post). This is a great step. Don’t underestimate the power of this – employees want to hear from their leader, especially during times of change.

To engage your employee base so they become the ultimate owners and drivers of the change throughout the organization you might want to consider a few of the following ideas:
1. Develop a change agent network. This is a group of employees tasked with advocating and explaining the change at the lowest levels of the organization. Meet with them regularly to exchange information about progress, and obtain feedback. Incorporate the feedback as appropriate into the program.
2. Hold town hall meetings. Develop regular employee forums where they can interface directly with you, ask questions about the change, and receive feedback about progress.
3. Hold focused meetings or lunches with a few employees at a time. Learn about concerns, dispel rumors (or confirm them as appropriate), and ask for input. Use feedback to shape the program.
4. Conduct surveys and heed results. Conduct readiness assessments to obtain confidential feedback about the program. Also, use these tools to shape your message. Use the results to modify direction, redirect resources, or make other adjustments as feasible and necessary.

These are the methods I’ve seen employed most frequently to help employees embrace change and drive it to greater success. There are others. Regardless, the underlying principles with these are to speak candidly, advocate your position, genuinely seek and apply feedback, and engage employees to help design, implement and institutionalize the change.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to avoid cross-functional dysfunction during change

First, let’s identify a few symptoms of cross-functional dysfunction:
a. Conflicting priorities: one part of the organization is developing work that is unimportant to one or more other areas.
b. Misaligned requirements: part of the organization thinks that elements of the change are critical while others don’t recognize the need.
c. Lack cooperation: part of the organization is attempting to accomplish work, but lacks progress because they are unable to gain commitment for help from another area.
d. Political positioning: lower level leaders advocate for their solution at a cost to others in the organization, and do it without considering this impact.

As a change sponsor, you are responsible for ensuring that your leadership team is clearly aligned with     the expected outcomes of your change program. A few questions consider as you act to improve this alignment:
1. First, are you clearly explaining the expected outcomes from the change? Are you soliciting feedback from your team to shape and improve your vision? Are they engaged to help make it better?
2. Does your leadership team trust one another? Do they speak openly and candidly about things going on in their organizations, and in their personal lives? (Note on the latter, obviously, there is a level of propriety that must be maintained, but they should be talking freely with each other about weekend events, family outings, favorite past-times, etc.)
3. Do the engage in healthy conflict? Are they willing to challenge each other’s ideas without fear of reprisal?
4. Do they seek commitment across the team to follow through on actions? Do they agree on a single owner and date for delivery?
5. Are they holding one another accountable? Do they follow up to ask about progress? Are they delivering?

The best, most effective teams work across the table to behave as outlined above. They don’t wait for the “boss” to resolve conflicts, they do it themselves. They are not afraid to call out behavior that doesn’t align with the direction of the team, and they are willing to actively acknowledge when team members make progress.
Are you leading a team like this?

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to be a successful sponsor of transformative change

Last week I introduced three topics to help leaders better understand how to lead change. This week we’ll focus on one of these topics: the leader’s personal sponsorship role.

There are three things that a leader of change, or a sponsor, can do to improve her effectiveness:
1. Provide active and visible support for the change.
2. Understand the behavior impact caused by the change you are introducing.
3. Repeatedly communicate the need for change.

Provide active and visible support: In my experience, the most effective sponsors are actively engaged with the change. She gains their commitment, engages with them every day and holds them accountable. She attends leadership meetings to provide direction, clarity, and accountability. She is also actively involved in mitigating risks and resolving issues. With the front-line organization, she meets regularly to talk about the change and its impacts. She solicits feedback and visibly incorporates the feedback into the change process.

Understands the behavior impact: All large-scale change – and most small ones – have behavioral change associated with it. Here are examples of behavior change drivers:
a. The organization changes one or more of its business processes, causing the people who use them to interact differently.
b. The organization restructures, causing former business relationships to give way to new relationships. Employees must now build new working relationships.
c. One company acquires another often causing two different cultures to figure out how to work together. Employees must understand the behaviors and norms of their new colleagues and adjust their own to work together effectively.
Effective sponsors understand this early in the program, determine how she needs to behave, models the new behavior to the organization and speaks openly about these changes.

Repeatedly communicate: Communications experts tell me that employees need to hear the message seven to ten times to fully comprehend the meaning of the change. Sponsors and their leadership teams must regularly emphasize the why, what and how of the change:
a.Why. Discuss the business drivers causing the change. Define the value to the business. Describe how this fits into the overall organizational strategy. Communicate the downside effect if the organization doesn’t change.
b. What. Define the impact to the organization. Explain the nature of the organization after the change. Describe how jobs will change. Define how roles will interact differently. Estimate job increases or decreases. Show how things will be different.
c. How. Explain how the change will impact individual roles. Specify support mechanisms available to the employee during and after the change. Identify new metrics and the process for accountability to the measures.

As a sponsor, you might not be responsible for the details of each of the actions outlined above, but you do need to ensure that someone is handling these issues and hold them accountable.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to ensure your leaders are ready to lead change

In change leadership work we usually talk about “organizational readiness” to ensure front-line employees are ready to embrace the change. Rarely though do we speak of “leadership readiness.” Yet Prosci, a leading change research firm, reports year after year that lack of sponsorship is the number one cause of change failing to meet its objectives. It’s time to talk about “leadership readiness.”

There are three primary causes of lack of leadership readiness to drive change:
1. Leaders don’t fully understand their role to successfully transform their business.
2. Cross-functional dysfunction erupts due to lack of alignment on approach, intent or outcomes.
3. Leaders may advocate for the change, but don’t solicit sufficient feedback to engage employees.

Each of these issues result in changes that do not live up to their potential. When leaders recognize these issues, and take corrective action the probability of success increases significantly.

Three things leaders can do to mitigate the associated risk:
1. Take my free transformational leadership assessment to identify change leadership improvement opportunities and take actions to close the gap.
2. Work with the leadership team to identify specific outcomes of the change, and ensure they each know how this translates for their teams.
3. Be sure messaging is clear, there are mechanisms to receive feedback, and then incorporate feedback into the change process.

We’ll explore leadership readiness in more detail in the coming weeks.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,