Leading Organizational Change

Leading Organizational Change

Do you want to be a transformational leader?

Have you been charged with lead­ing your company through a major change?

Have you wondered how you would get it done and worry about if it will be successful?


These are extensive and challenging questions. But if you build a an amazing team and instill a trusting and committed culture, you can accomplish anything.


This an adaptation, with my comments in italics, from Stan Slap author of “Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers”, which offers these tips as you embark on your journey:


1.  If we can’t sell the change inside, we can’t sell it outside. Before rolling out our plans for change, we need to work closely with our staff and get emotional commitment and buy-in from them.


This is key. If you have buy-in from staff, the implementation and process mitigates major hiccups. A quote from H.P. Lovecraft says, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”


For example I was asked to help lead the company I worked for to relocate the corporate headquarters from California to Texas. When I got a call while I was at home on a Sunday night at 7 pm from the CEO to immediately come into his office, there was an instant fear of “what did I do?”. And I knew that it was serious for me to get a call from the CEO of a $220m company on a Sunday evening. I had a lot of fears and figured it had to be serious because obviously he felt it could not wait until Monday morning. As it turned out, they asked me to help lead a massive project to move the company’s headquarters from CA to TX. That initial fear of the unknown turned into one of most rewarding and exciting projects I have worked on, once the plans and details were made known and explained to me.


As the process of moving the company’s corporate headquarters, I quickly formulated a plan and brought my team in and explained the move and all of the details. It was very transparent. I involved each team member in the process and made them feel like a key component of the team and of the decision making process.


I can tell you that this was the most positive and smoothly run project I have been part of. I attribute it to my amazing staff and their buy-in and being an integral part of the move. And it was verified when move than 50% of my department moved their families from California to Texas – more than any other department in the company.


2.  Plans don’t count. What matters is implementation. Nothing can kill a new initiative faster than a “thumbs down” from the employ­ees. Realize the power of the culture. Tell them clearly what is not going to change, and that your organization remains focused on implementing strategies that sup­port the mission.


The process of transparency in what is going to change also has to be applied for things that are not going to change. Adding on to the story above, my staff wanted to know and feel and have a sense of job security in their future and what they do at work will not be changing. Once their fear and concerns were mitigated, they were on board and committed to the project with joy, vigor, and commitment. Their drive and dedication was very noticeable and made the project enjoyable and completed early and under budget. Incredible results.


3.  Your organization will be branded both for its perfor­mance and how you deliver the products or services. What is the customer-friendliness quotient of staff and to each other? How does your orga­nization solve problems? What is your capacity to treat each and every customer humanely and with respect? For instance, think of stressful, emotional situations when it is hard to maintain your cool, like dealing with angry customers.


Using my example above, our department was well known for its excellent customer service and technology products and service delivery. This culture and pride speaks volumes when new projects are being considered and that my department can handle what is needed to meet the business goals and objectives.


Here is an example of this. Our VP came into my office and casually sat down and with a big smile said, “how realistic could you migrate and consolidate the different data systems and “re-open” our office in Ireland so they can handle all the business in Europe and Asia while using the company’s ERP system ?” I said that with enough time and resources, we can do anything. She said they were just floating the idea and left my office.


She came back 15 minutes later after talking to the CEO and said, “ok, it’s a “go” and you need to be live on July 4th.” and she walked away. Now as the shock began to take effect, I realized it was only 2 months away, we were just starting to move our corporate office from CA to TX, and they had just fired the office manager and I took on the role of not only moving the IT department but also doing all the construction build-out of our new office in TX. To add to the pressure, there was no room for failure. It had to work.


I share this story as I had started with the company about 3 months prior and the executive leadership had already seen the shift in culture and attitude in our IT department and we had now won the trust of our VP and CEO to give us the opportunity to embark on this really challenging but rewarding project. Needless to say, we did meet the deadline and were live July 4th and I spent my 4th of July holiday in Ireland as we flipped the switch and the migration and opening went off without a hitch. I could have only done it with the amazing team I had.


4.  People do not follow negativity. You must remain positive, even in the face of great challenges. For example, labor negotiations can be a negative experience. While you cannot alone determine the course or the tenor of the experi­ence, what you can do is remain upbeat and positive. When dealing with negative behavior, it is hard to remain above the fray. It takes energy, but it is the right course. Have passion for what you do. If you don’t have that passion, find something else to do.


Very true. I recently came through unsuccessful union contract negotiations for teachers that ended up resulting in a week-long strike, which had not been heard of in CA for many years. Through it all we had a great team that kept calm, planned for every scenario we could think of, and took action accordingly. It went smoothly. At the same time I was involved in another union negotiating their contract and all the bargaining unit members from both sides took a different tact and approach – one of trust, professionalism, and common goals. The negotiations proceeded smoothly and without incident or even anyone getting frustrated in any way. At the end of the negotiations both sides were very happy with the results. We were only able to do this as we focused on realistic goals and staying positive throughout the process.


In “Bury My Heart in Conference Room B”, Stan Slap says, “The irreducible essence of leadership is that leaders are people who live their deepest personal values without compro­mise, and they use those values to make life better for others – this is why people become leaders and why people follow leaders.”


Slap stresses that the true pur­pose of leadership is not to increase the value of the organization or to improve the productivity of teams.  The true purpose of leadership is not what leaders do, but why they do it.  Leadership is a purpose before it’s a practice.


Check out his book on Amazon.


Adapted from “Leading Organizational Change” by Erin K. Green, MBA, RSBA. School Business Affairs, November 2010, p. 4.

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