Leading Organizational Change

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by David Grau

We live at a time when the pace of political, economic, social and technological change is accelerating, creating an ongoing impact on our organizations. It is not only the rate at which change is occurring but also the complexity of those changes. Those external changes make it imperative for organizations to also change. As a leader, how do you ensure that your organization not only keeps up with those changes but thrives in the midst of them? What do change leaders need to do to successfully implement change and ensure that the benefits of that change continue well into the future?

I of this series of leading change we explore the executive actions associated with making the case for change and garnering the support of other executives, managers and employees. For a more detailed analysis of the critical steps for implementing change in organizations I recommend the book The Path of Ascent (2009)1, which provides the framework for the steps outlined in this article. Leading Change (1994)2 is another highly recommended resource.

Making the Case for Change

  • Meet with your executive/leadership team and share your observations on why you believe change is needed. Provide time for them to reflect on what you are saying and together discuss the pros and cons of pursuing the change. Members of the leadership team may have ideas on how to create a change that will be even more impactful, having had the opportunity to build on the idea(s) you brought before them.
  • Your leadership team must be in agreement with the proposed change. It started with working with them on the change initiative from the beginning. Leadership must be able to talk about the importance of the change, what will happen as a result and the impact on employees and the work of the organization. Your managers need to be able to do so, as well, so that the change process is not undermined at lower levels of the organizational hierarchy. Leaders need to engage and enroll their managers in the change effort so that the organization speaks about the change and supports it with one voice.
  • Together with your executive team, describe what success will look like. Make it real for people. Create a sense of urgency and excitement. James Collins and Jerry Porras (1996)4 describe doing so as follows:

“[a] vivid description—that is, a vibrant, engaging and specific description of what it will be like to achieve the [goal]. Think of it as translating the vision from words into pictures, of creating an image that people can carry around in their heads. It is a question of painting a picture with your words.”

  • With your leadership team create the overarching goal, i.e., the purpose of the change effort. Make it, as George T. Doran (1981)3 suggested when creating goals, SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and indicate the Time by when the goal will be achieved.
  • It is important for you and the other executives to gain buy-in from the other members of your organization. Step into the shoes of the managers and employees that will be impacted by the change. See the world through their eyes. Appeal to their desire to ensure that the organization prospers and explain the benefits for them and the organization and why the change is necessary now. Be inspirational in your speaking and communicate frequently with those who will be impacted by the change.
  • To reduce potential resistance and win over your internal stakeholders, invite their input. You’ll increase buy-in and generate the support you will need from the people who will help with implementation and be impacted by it. Research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that if 70% of employees are not behind the change it will fail to achieve the desired results.
  • It’s not only “okay” to hear from people who disagree with the change, it’s necessary. It provides an opportunity for you to explain the rationale behind your decisions and make, as appropriate, adjustments based on the input you receive. You’ll convert many of the skeptics to supporters.
  • Create a scorecard with key performance indicators to ensure that the overall goal for the change has been achieved. Use the scorecard as part of a feedback loop that indicates your successes and opportunities for improvement.
  • Your ability and that of your leadership team to effect change will be predicated on the level of trust developed between you and the other members of your organization. Over the course of the change process the leadership needs to be forthcoming, transparent and especially if the change is impacting the culture of the organization, models of the change you and the other executives want to see across the organization.

Creating a shared vision answers the question “Why are we embarking on this change and what will occur as a result?” In Part II of “Leading Change,” we will explore the next step in the change process– determining the strategies to achieve the goal.

See next, Leading Organizational Change – Part II

  1. Riboldi, J. (2009). The Path of Ascent: The Five Principles for Mastering Change. Provo, UT: Ascent Advisor.
  2. Kotter, J. (1994). Leading Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
  3. Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review, 70(11), 35–36.
  4. Collins, J. and Porras, J. (1996). Building your company’s vision, Harvard Business Review74(5), 65.-77.

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