Most business leaders today would agree on two things: (1) organizational change is constant, and (2) leading change is one of the most difficult burdens of a leader’s command. In last week’s article I focused on the seven mindsets necessary for successful leadership development. In this article, I want to take it a step further and look at the role leadership development should play in organizational change.
This topic arose quickly during a major transformation a company I previously owned was undergoing. We had been doubling in size (revenue and headcount) each year since our inception but began to suffer from the inevitable growing pains all organizations face. We were outgrowing legacy systems and processes, needed a culture upgrade, new talent acquisition strategies, new divisions, new software programs and a new approach to sales and marketing. The list goes on.
And while we knew that research points to the fact that the majority of major organizational change efforts fall short of meeting their intended objectives, we remained vigilant. But some of the major hurdles most companies face during transformations include resources being stretched thin, competing priorities, new systems to learn, fear, fatigue and managers facing issues they’ve never dealt with.
So when I proposed that we pile on leadership development programs and emotional intelligence training to better equip ourselves to successfully lead through change the eyes really started rolling!
“Do you really think that is a priority right now?” one senior executive asked.
“Budget’s are super tight right now with the increase in headcount and investment in the new software program – not to mention the training everyone needs for these new systems,” a board member exclaimed.
“In my opinion we can’t afford not to invest in these programs. If we don’t improve our ability to lead in dynamic situations, we will fail,” I said.
As a former Navy SEAL, I knew that without sound leadership at all levels during chaotic times, the mission goes south. Fast. So I pushed back to support my case by reminding everyone of several key leadership challenges that could force us to become a sad statistic of failed organizational change:
Leadership alignment (or misalignment) on exactly how to execute our change mission
Clearly articulating the changes needed across the organization
Emotionally connecting the team to our renewed mission narrative
Underdeveloped middle managers (and some senior leaders!)
Managing fear, fatigue and conflict as unforeseen issues arise
Leading teams through various specific changes related to the larger transition
Maintaining trust and accountability
Handling all aspects related to maintaining (or improving) culture during the transformation
My point was that this was the best possible time to invest in leadership development programs starting with custom 360-degree feedback and overall sentiment analysis. By using that data we could create actionable programs designed to meet specific needs. As accountable leaders we were going to have to mature and evolve in order to handle the unique obstacles that come with leading organizational change. Eventually, everyone got on board. And not only did the feedback and programs improve our leaders across the organization, it built trust with the entire company. Why? Because everyone knew we were truly investing in our ability to lead them. And therefore, in a way, we were investing in each of them too.
For any organization facing change (which is all of us), I recommend the following approach when considering leadership development programs:
Think outside the box and make the experience both highly valuable and fun
Ensure that the participants have enough bandwidth to be fully engaged and take advantage of the opportunity
Make sure that those participating have the seven mindsets necessary for successful leadership development
When appropriate and applicable, articulate to the participants the potential incentives for improving as a leader such as more responsibility, upward mobility or increased compensation
Ensure that the content and curriculum of the program have practical on-the-job applications (i.e. if the company is experiencing widespread change, make sure change leadership is part of the program!)
Be transparent with the entire organization (not just participants) about WHY the investment is being made and what the positive outcomes are to be expected
Begin with data collection and analysis with custom 360-degree surveys (or something similar), leadership assessments and even organization-level assessments – use that data to design programs that not only address specific challenges (at the team and individual level) but also fit the timing of the changes the company is facing TODAY.
Leading organizational change always starts with a bit of mindset transformation because we usually have to pull time, budget and resources from one important area to invest in another. Leading change is hard. You can’t afford not to invest in leadership improvement.
Doing so dramatically improves the chances of transformation success!