Thursday, June 11, 2015

5 Ways Leaders Can Be Prepared for Ongoing Change

Guest post from Nancy Falls:

I was a girl scout.  My brothers were boy scouts.  Naturally, we used to argue about which had better programs, handshakes, rules, etc. One thing we didn’t have to argue about was mottos, because they were the same: “Be Prepared”.

Leaders today, former scouts or not, would do well to heed the scout motto, especially when it comes to change.  Last time I checked, the inevitability of change was one of the few things we could count on not changing.  Given that, it is remarkable how many people and organizations are ill prepared for it.  Here are 5 ways in which you can Be Prepared for change. 

1. Know Your Culture, and Take Responsibility for It
Change is hard, for people and for organizations.  People and companies that get good at it are intentional about creating a culture that embraces constructive change.  They have what I call Organizational Readiness: The condition of being prepared, culturally and structurally, for significant change, or having in place the foundations for accepting and participating in constructive transitions.  What is the culture of your organization?  As a leader not only should you know, but you should be part of the force creates conditions for change readiness.  As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  The best laid plans and strategy will fail when confronted with a culture that resists what needs to happen to execute on them.  But as Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Culture is one thing and varnish is another”.  Be prepared for employees and departments that give the impression of change readiness, but who in fact are adding a varnish to send you looking another way.

2. Practice Change Resistance Awareness
One of the most common organizational roadblocks to change is the well-known NIH (not invented here).  You may hear it as “We don’t do it that way.”  When you hear this it is a cultural roadblock you need to work to clear.  If you have been with the organization for a long time, you are no doubt aware of historical ways of doing things, and in some ways have a leg up on helping people being understand why the old ways must change.  But as often as not you are a newer player seeking, or even brought in, to change the old ways of doing things.  Clearing this attitudinal roadblock requires listening intently and generously to understand what did work about the old way, and why individuals reject newer ways.  Taking the time to understand those who have to change will increase the odds of getting by in for the new way.  First cousin to NIH is the “We Are Not Broken” attitude.  This attitude can be a more powerful argument for not changing than NIH because on the surface things often do not seem broken.

3. Embrace the Power of Interim Leadership
When there is a change in leadership, a period of interim leadership with a skilled interim leader from the outside can facilitate organizational readiness for change. Organizations often appoint the closest available inside person to be interim. These folks have great institutional knowledge and can keep current projects on track, but they are not as well positioned to evaluate organizational readiness for change as is an outsider, especially one skilled at interim work.  It takes a special skillset to move into an organization, without the presumed authority of position, know where to go to “find the buried bodies,” and work independently as needed. And interims that have no interest in the permanent position can be more objective in their evaluations.

4. Remember that Personnel Is Personal
I remember a case study from my MBA studies, which laid out a situation where a manager had to choose one of two candidates for a promotion and overseas assignment.  The candidate who was more qualified had tremendous personal challenges to relocation, including resident invalid parents.  Many students thought the obvious choice was the guy who was most able to make the move, given he did have the basic skills needed. The right answer was to pick the absolute best candidate without second guessing the personal because you can never know all of the facts.  In fact, the candidate with the elderly parents had recently decided to move the parents to a facility, making a move possible.  Likewise, I know a leadership team that was working on succession planning and failed to plan for departures among those execs with certain long-term incentives.  They figured they were locked in and wouldn’t leave.  In fact, for personal reasons, one of the most valuable of these team members did in fact leave early.  It turns out money was not the driver.  Personal issues were.  The point is it’s always personal for your employees when it comes to change.  And while you need to remember that and anticipate personal change and preferences, it is critical to appreciate that you can never know all of the facts.  Plan for personal factors to contribute to change, and in ways you don’t expect.  When planning on the people side of change, have alternative plans prepared.

5. Know What the Organization Can Handle
Different industries have different requirements for change. A tech firm not expecting to move at a rapid pace can expect to be eclipsed.  Also, different employee bases have different appetites for change. Planning for change at a big bureaucracy that is dependent on large staffs of long-time workers requires deliberation and a slower pace.  Different owner structures also have different change values. Family-owned companies can often follow a path of change that brings results more slowly than can publicly traded companies. As a leader you need to understand these differences and drive change at a pace that is right for your company.

When it comes to building a culture of change, leaders would be well served to channel their inner scouts, boy or girl.  Follow these 5 tips and Be Prepared for ongoing change.

Author Bio:
Nancy Falls is a founder and CEO of The Concinnity Company, a boutique advisory that transforms the way boards and leadership teams work together. With more than thirty years of experience in and around the C-suite and the boardroom, Falls is a leadership and governance expert who understands what it takes to drive authentic success. Falls is a Governance Fellow of the National Association of Corporate Directors. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of Corporate Concinnity in the Boardroom: 10 Imperatives to Drive High Performing Companies.

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