As change leadership practitioners, we relish every opportunity we have to learn about strategies and tactics that are effective in leading organizations to successful outcomes.
Sometimes it’s through client debriefs following the conclusion of a project while on other occasions, it’s by networking with executives that we meet at the many conferences and events we attend throughout the year.
Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with an executive who shared a series of experiences and lessons learned over a career spanning 20 years. We found the conversation fascinating and wanted to share some of his observations and experiences.
Plan with purpose
The executive we met emphasized the importance of placing a high priority on planning, including ensuring sufficient resources are in place at the outset of a major change initiative.
He observed that project sponsors are an excellent resource in driving change – particularly in ensuring there is sufficient capacity throughout all phases along with delivering projects on time and on budget.
He cited an example where multiple teams collaborated at the beginning of the design of a system and again in the test phase to validate it. Such continuity isn’t always the case – often due to budgetary reasons or competing priorities.
Equally important to the successful outcome was that the dedicated resources assigned to the project had the right skillset and clearly understood their roles. They were there for a reason and fully engaged – not voluntold to fill out the team to get the project up and running and finished as soon as possible.
Listen to learn
While many organizations may pride themselves on being good communicators, the question that all organizations should ask is are they also good listeners.
In this executive’s case, he raised the importance of creating a forum in which organizations encourage and support their leaders in speaking openly and constructively about the challenges they face. And that this should be established at the beginning – not end – of a project when it is too late to alter the outcome.
One way this can be accomplished – which we often recommend to the clients we work with – is appointing an executive sponsor who is accountable for a project. They should be passionate about what the organization is trying to accomplish and able to channel that to staff.
The executive sponsor should also make an effort to solicit feedback from staff throughout the process. Not only is this valuable in getting the pulse of the organization, it can also assist the project team in identifying any challenges – and opportunities – that can be addressed as it unfolds.
Simply sending out a memo or holding a Town Hall is no longer an effective project management plan. It’s important for senior leaders to realize that people need time to adjust and adapt to change and they should be prepared to support their staff during this transition, including providing valuable tools and resources.
Make the 'why' compelling
In his book Start With Why, best-selling author Simon Sinek had an interesting message:
There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us.
While the executive we interviewed highlighted the influence that project and executive sponsors can carry, he also cited an example of a team in a business area driving a successful change outcome.
In this particular case, the finance team recognized the system changes being implemented by their organization would result in a more powerful system with more functions. They were able to convey this to their colleagues, creating excitement about the “new world” they were heading towards.
Getting buy-in from staff can be challenging at times but it is crucial in leading to a positive outcome. The more skilled you are at communicating the vision and strategy and in answering the proverbial “What’s in it for me?” question, the better your chances are of success.
Putting people first
In reflecting on the experiences and observations of the executive we chatted with, one common element surfaced: people.
People were instrumental in identifying and overcoming challenges, and in capitalizing on opportunities.
We’re not surprised since our firm strongly believes in the people-side of change leadership. If you are able to clearly define your vision and provide the necessary support for each phase, the odds of success are enhanced.
And it’s as simple as putting people first.
To discuss ways to drive sustainable change in your business, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.