Thursday, January 21, 2010

So you want to lead change?

As 2010 begins to gear up for action and organisations look to move on and forget about the hard ending of the last decade, the word ‘Change’ will inevitably be part of the agenda.

Improving Performance, Improving Culture, Structuring for Growth, Values role outs, Merger, Acquisition, the list is endless and it is all change. That means that all round the world there will be leaders facing leadership of change. Leaders like Tony, who I met recently and asked me ‘What does it take to lead change?’.

Tony had read all the books about what he had to do to run a change programme, so he was up to his eyeballs in project management theory, low-hanging fruit and Kotters eight steps. He’d done a few leadership courses and was up on motivation and communication too.

But Tony had been through a few change initiatives, as a receiver of change, before he was promoted. He’d observed that some leaders don’t manage changing their operation as well they had managed it before the change. He’d also noted that not all of them had survived leading change on a personal level.

Hence his question ‘what does it take to lead change?’

So I gave him three things (anyone can remember three things)

‘Guts, humility & resilience” I said. If you want to make change happen you will need these in abundance. Let me explain why I chose these three.

Few leaders in the corporate world have total carte-blanche to do what they want in their division or business stream. There are organisational ‘ways of doing things’, company values, vision and mission, standardised training programmes, etc. But when you take over a division or department you are still expected to improve it and make it perform better.
This leaves many leaders a little stuck; ‘How can I change this place if we’ve already done everything that we normally do?’
The answer is that you do what really needs done. What really needs done is often hardest to do. Thats often why its not been done yet. It means taking a risk. It means pushing against the accepted way of doing things. It means dismantling things that may have been put in place by those who have since been promoted to higher levels (they might not like that!). But surely thats why its called change!
Real leaders of change look at their part of the business and see what really needs done and do it, knowing what they up against. That takes guts.

When you start a change programme you will know what you want from it and where you want it to take your business. Even the smallest change needs a Vision doesn’t it. You will also see what needs changed to get there, what systems processes and structures etc need changed. At the beginning you will have a vision and a plan. Once you get started on change you will find that there will be reason’s to change the plan. You will find that the people in your department may have a better idea that still delivers the vision. You will find that at some point you will make a wrong choice or say the wrong thing. You are the leader though. You can keep going on your way, you can ignore the new data, new idea, the mistake you made, the thing you said that was wrong. Or you can have enough humility to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, can make mistakes, occasionally get your words wrong. The great thing about a bit of humility is that our employees prefer a leader that acknowledges their mistakes more than they prefer working for a robot. Change Leaders need a lot of Humility.

Most people know that real change is never easy. There will be many people who are willing to argue that you are wrong to be even trying it. There will be many hurdles to overcome in getting there (ask anyone who has run an IT project change) and things will go wrong at some point. Some days you will wish you had never started. There will be many days that a leader of change will feel alone. But once you’ve put your vision out there, marshalled your teams and rallied them round the new direction, put the plan in action, you cant stop the change (its like a ripple on a pond).

Some let the change peter out and don’t follow through on everything that is needed. These are the programmes that add up to the large failure statistics for change programmes worldwide. These are the ones that leave staff disillusioned and change weary and ultimately more resistant to future change (why put yourself behind something heart and soul if your leaders don't!).

The one person that has to keep going, has to show faith, has to keep positive, has to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and say “whats next on the plan?’ is the change leader. That takes resilience.

So if you want to lead change, make sure you stock up on Guts, Humility & Resilience.