Organizational change initiatives need active change leadership. While they also need strong engagement from all levels of the organization, several studies have indicated that absence of vigorous change leadership, often called sponsorship, is one of the prime causes of the failure of change initiatives.
Often, the problem is that while there is named sponsor, the named individual is quite busy and relies on staff to do the work of putting the organizational change into practice. But lack of involvement by the sponsor seriously weakens the influence of the change initiative, because employees need to see active management support and commitment for the change to believe the change going to remain in place. Otherwise, they will assume that the commitments and reaction that they are used to are still in place.
So, being a strong change leader is more than being a name in a box. It involves the skillful application of leadership skills, some of which are summarized below.
1. Create a simple, compelling vision. Frame the change in terms of results for the organization as a whole as well as the effect on the individual.
2. Reinforce the need for change. Take steps to help people understand what is required and why. Clearly and consistently remind people that transformation is required in order to gain a competitive advantage.
3. Challenge others to get on board with the change. Interact with individuals and groups in the organization to explain the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the change.
4. Utilize every opportunity to interact with others. Encourage challenges and answer questions.
5. Confront colleagues when they are not supporting the change. Keep colleagues honest by connecting back to group decisions
6. Face up to people’s expressions of negativity. Allow people to express concerns and to discuss them. Avoid stamping out issues. Instead, “exhaust them out” by listening and discussing.
7. Mediate strong conflict among key people in the organizations.
8. Allow people at lower levels in the organization freedom to discover their own way to align with the new direction. Foster and create an atmosphere that enables people to test the new change, generate recommendations, experiment with new ways of operating, and exhibit some dysfunctional behavior while the change is taking root in the culture.
9. Create and sustain energy for transformation—keep the focus on the change and make sure sufficient resources are available. Change consultant Robert Miles says, “resistance to change builds in direct proportion to the perceived lack of resources.”
10. Take a total system perspective. Organizations are complex systems where transformational change requires changing many interrelated parts at once.
11. Use a systematic implementation process. Ad hoc processes like brainstorming recommendations and assigning people do execute the recommendations rarely result in transformational change. Robust change methodologies that are grounded on solid principles of organizational behavior often seem counterintuitive or overly difficult, but they mediate the strong emotions and seemingly commonsense objections that actually subvert the change.
12. Display a constant dedication to making change a reality. Focus on results, success, analyzing failure to determine why it occurred, and constantly encouraging others to try again.