Nearly 90% of leaders expect the number of change initiatives at their organization to increase in the next two years — but these changes will have mixed results.
McKinsey surveyed more than 2000 executives across 900 companies and found that fewer than half of executives believed their transformation efforts had met their goals or showed sustained results.
Business transformation can be difficult, but they are more likely to be successful when they are supported by members of the leadership team. In fact, two-thirds of respondents to the McKinsey survey said that executive ownership and commitment was the single most significant factor in the transformation process.
If you’re in a senior management position, it’s vitally important for you to be one of your company’s transformation advocates during a period of change. Here’s how you can step into this crucial role — no matter what type of business transformation your company is implementing.
Why Senior Management Needs to Lead the Change
Change can stem from any level of an organization, but more often than not, it’s a case of improving international reach, customer service, processes, innovation, or environmental impact.
Bold ideas for initiatives in these areas can come from anywhere — from a middle manager to an entry-level or part-time employee. Regardless of the idea’s source, the initiative can’t spread throughout the company without senior management. For example, an individual customer service agent may experiment with a customer relationship management tool that offers deep customer insight — but they can’t purchase the tool for all the agents at the company.
Of course, executive involvement is about more than just the practical question of how an initiative, tool or behavior will spread across the organization. It’s also about signaling that the new initiative is a priority. After all, if the change is not important to senior leadership, why should it be important to anyone else?
Executives show whether or not a project is important through their actions. If they announce the transformation initiative, only to disappear or delegate it to someone else soon after, their actions convey that the initiative isn’t worth their time. This discourages employees from feeling fully committed to making the change happen — which ultimately prevents company-wide adoption.
How to Be an Effective Transformation Advocate
Unless you have a track record of navigating large-scale organizational change, you may not know how to be an effective change advocate. Here are a few actions you can take in order to be a successful change leader.
Establish a Structure to Support the Change
Organizational change can be led by one senior executive, but it’s never a one-person job. You need to set up the proper structure to support long-term, company-wide transformation, and see it through all stages.
By forming a committee of change sponsors with the relevant authority and insight, executives and other stakeholders from your organization can work together for a more effective change process. It’s important to develop a diverse team in order to understand how a change might affect different employees across the company. Ensure that you include a “detractor” on the change sponsor team, who may initially have reservations about the change. By converting this employee into an adopter — or even a promoter — of the new initiative, you will have what it takes to convince the entire company that you’re improving the way you do things for everyone.
While it’s important to include a mix of key team members in this committee, make sure that the group isn’t so large that it cannot make timely decisions. Sponsors will also need to mix with other employees in the organization to help promote the new initiative, and this will become time-consuming and difficult to organize with too many sponsors.
Establishing a dynamic team of rotating players can work, too. Establish a team of executives and managers from various departments and markets to collaborate on a fixed-term or project basis, and then replace the team when that term is complete.
A rotation like this can bring new perspectives into the organization’s decision-making, and can be expanded into a program to identify and develop change agents within the company. These agents then serve as internal change management consultants — driving organizational transformation while also developing executive talent.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
When it comes to organizational change, you can never over-communicate as a leader. Don’t hold off on communicating until you know everything about decisions, goals, progress, and next steps. Holding back information — even if you feel it’s for good reason — will only foster an environment where rumors and uncertainty fill the communication gaps. This can prevent change and create future distrust among your employees.
Develop a communication plan for your change management initiative to ensure that your entire organization is clear on what is happening. This plan should include all goals for the change, so it can serve as both a roadmap and benchmark your team can always refer back to.
It’s also important to communicate expectations in terms of both project timings and the commitments required of your employees. By using a phased approach to transformative change, your team will understand what the change is, when and how it will happen, and whether their roles will be affected. This eliminates any surprises and fosters a culture of transparency surrounding the new and unfamiliar initiative.
Listen to Feedback
Communication from the top is important, but communication has to be a two-way street. In order to be a strong change advocate, you must become a great listener.
An effective way to show employees that you will listen to their thoughts and take them seriously is to set up a designated channel for feedback during the change process. This could be an online messaging tool or a dedicated email address. Providing a way for your team to give feedback and addressing the feedback you receive shows that you care about their experience throughout the change process. It can also help ease employee concerns, giving you the chance to explain the benefits of the change and encourage your team to get on board.
Although you should encourage your employees to speak up, you can be a proactive change advocate by gathering data that also reveals employee sentiment about the new initiative. For instance, if you’re implementing a new software solution, collect data on how many employees are using it on a daily basis. Tracking this number can show you how quickly your teams are adopting the new program, and help you identify if some employees need more training or guidance to use the new system.
You can also reach out to key knowledge holders to get their opinion on the change as it’s happening. This will provide the ongoing critique you need to refine the initiative to your organization’s exact needs.
Don’t Just Lead — Participate
If your organizational change requires employee training, make sure you attend the sessions, too. This will allow you, as the transformation advocate, to see how the implementation is going on the ground level, and make yourself available to employees. Employees shouldn’t feel that change pronouncements are being declared by mysterious executives from the top of a hill. Rather, they should feel that the company’s change advocates are in the trenches supporting them.
Organizational transformation never happens overnight. It takes ongoing executive commitment to ensure a successful change. If you’re in a senior leadership role, you’re a prime candidate to be a transformation advocate for the next big transition at your organization. By putting these factors into action, you can look forward to long-term success from your company’s transformation.
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