We have recently heard of public and private sector improvements in our network. But they are set to fail. This is worrying, but we know that failure is not inevitable.
Why am I so confident in saying change is prone to fail? It is simple. Many leaders in organisations seem to think that need is just procedural, but it is cross-functional transformational change. Change that needs managing as change and not a service improvement.
Service improvement can be initiated at the top with a simple project and outsourcing the activities to consultants. Change, on the other hand, needs leadership and ongoing guidance from the senior leaders of all functions impacted.
I heard many years ago a saying that still steers our thinking today – if you always do what you have always done, you will get the results you usually get!
And another way of looking at this is:
The first sign of lunacy is doing the same thing and expecting a different result!
When the results you need are outside the control of one function or leader, a change management project is required. Not a step 1, 2, 3 type project, but a leadership and behavioural change type project.
Why behavioural change and not just process?
Most of us have the goal of turning up to work and doing the best we can. However, many organisational policies and procedures and set up to create and maintain silos. For a transformational change, those silos need to be knocked down (and re-established) for the new world. Broad changes can be challenging and uncomfortable for all parties. In this context, people at the service face become change-resistant, as they have often learned that change often equates to job losses. Indeed, many change projects aim to reduce costs and not add value.
We need to educate people to understand that change projects are not always about cost but can be about quality (see the Time, Quality, Cost Triangle).
Why does change fail?
We have written a lot about this, but in many organisations, it is because the senior leaders do not “walk the talk“. There are of course, many other factors. Still, in this article, I want to focus on Leadership Engagement, an aspect often overlooked.
Creating distance for self-protection.
Many leaders seem to delegate (abdicate) change to consultants and juniors almost as a way of self-preservation. They believe they can distance themselves from failure when it happens or celebrate selecting the right team when a project is successful. This is not an honest or transparent approach. It certainly is not Authentic Leadership.
Successful change leaders need to walk that talk.
Great leaders must associate with the changes and drive the changes. They need to lead by example so that the change activities prioritise many other factors for success in the future. No senior leader should be so busy in the day-to-day that they cannot lead change. Any leader who says they are “too busy running the show” should be changed as not a leader. They are a manager. Help the organisation cut some budget costs!
To change the people
Sometimes, to create change, you do need to change the people. Not just having people change, but to physically change the people in roles. Just because a person was right for the previous role does not mean they are the person for the next phase of the organisation’s future.
To change people, you often must change THE people!
This is not always necessary, but it is at the top.
What is Authentic Leadership?
To be an authentic leader, we need to be:
- Transparent in our relationships,
- Evident in our morals and values,
- Balanced in decision making
Most importantly, an authentic leader needs to lead by example in all aspects. Leaders need to be more consistent than sporadic in their decision-making, actions and behaviours.
How to lead change – a quick guide for heads of function
- Be Brave – lead by example. Do the behaviours you want others to copy. Often! Admit your mistakes as soon as you are aware of them.
- Get a coach and not a consultant. We need organisations to stop engaging change consultants to do their work and engage change managers that COACH leaders in the process.
- Articulate YOUR vision – share it frequently with your peers and stakeholders. Engage with them to support it. Then share the messages with your team and stakeholders. Sell the idea, and work with those that actively support your vision. Change those people that don’t!
- Get your feet on the ground. Do not delegate engagement. Be seen where your employees are, where their clients are, and with stakeholders in their operational places. And do this much more often than is personally comfortable.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. You can NEVER share enough, tell them, tell them, tell them, tell them. Communication needs to become a constant. Use new channels as well as established ones. Be consistent and innovative at the same time.
Summary of leading change
When the change in any organisation is broader than a single function, it needs to be led and managed from a corporate level. It needs to be integrated with all partners and aligned across the organisation. Senior leaders of all functions impacted need to be seen to walk the talk continuously. Those leaders need to leave the “day to day” to their team members and focus on engaging with those inside and outside their organisation that have some “skin in the game”.
Harnessing external champions can help, but that is no replacement for leading by example.
It is uncomfortable for us to publish an article like this as a consultancy. But it is the truth. Over the years, we have been that consultancy where the client surrendered change. It does not work and rarely leads to sustained success. Over time, we have changed our approach to coaching and growing internal resources’ capability for increased sustainability in change. Change is the only constant feature in modern life.
It is never too late to avoid failure. Have leaders lead, be positive about success and focus on transparency, engagement and belief in success. And have great coaches supporting you! (Coaches that have experience in large scale transformational change.