Are your executives enabling or hindering change management success in your organization?

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In 2011, a well known process improvement marketplace firm surveyed over five hundred companies about business improvement strategies and tactics. The findings showed that the two top impediments to needed changes were:

  1. Change resistance in the organization;
  2. Securing managers’ approval for business improvement programs (possibly another face of change resistance).

Isaac Asimov said, "The only constant is change." C-level executives and middle managers need to be much more effective leaders by being the best (versus competitors) at leveraging the inevitable, continuous change that occurs in every organization. So is it possible to turn a change resistant culture into a change seeking culture? It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the greats down the ages, so how do we ensure C-level buy-in to make inevitable change a more painless experience; and, better, a positive one?

We can all be prisoners to habit and comfort, no matter how far up the ladder we are.

Without proactive change leadership by C-executives, process improvement managers face unnecessarily difficult change management problems. Changing this C-level behaviour is somewhat of an unnatural act, that flies in the face of neuroscience findings about human behaviour at a primal level. But, that is the opportunity, because as one sage noted, "Successful people do what others are not willing or able to do." Competitors have the same issues.

Relatedly, in the movie The International, the question is asked, "What do you do when you have no way out?" The answer is of course: "Go further in." There is no way out of change, so go further in. Doing so better than competitors is the sustainable competitive advantage opportunity for A-player leaders to cause to happen.

Great change leadership is able to turn normal change resistance into change resilience, and then ultimately into CHANGE SEEKING – which is a strong competitive advantage. Various levels of leaders need to provide change leadership. C-level and middle managers’ roles are both similar and different in terms of change attitudes and actions. Both roles are vital to change.

Plan for change, and lead change

Regular planning for change is vital at all of the strategic, annual, operational and program levels. As image 1 illustrates, changes can be caused by constant external changes in technology, competition, laws, and economic conditions. Their impacts on customers first, then the organization, must first be foreseen and then leveraged.

Below is a checklist, taken from my Amazon ebook Primorial (Reptilian) Change Management, that can help with communication with top and middle management in regard to their either enabling or hindering change management quality in your organization. It should be referred to all managers, top-to-bottom, to foster change enablement versus change hindering.

To use this self-checklist, first score your senior leadership teams on each of the following points (score 1-4, with 4 being high/good) and add up the results. Then score your middle managers on the same points and add up their scores. If either the C-Suite or key middle managers score poorly on these questions, organizational change programs like Lean Six Sigma projects, BPM, Right/Downsizing, acquisitions, divestitures, and many more are at greater risk of being poorly accepted and then executed to meet goals.

Change seeking leadership actions

1-4 Score

Top management lives and breathes the necessity of continuous, smart change. On the "simultaneous tight and loose properties" continuum, "loose" change is at least equally important as "tight" operations.

Comment: Everyone takes their lead from C-executives, so for a change seeking culture to exist the C-leaders need to be proactively emphasizing the imperative to be a smart change seeking organization; and walk their talk.

Managers are all of Reactive, Active and Proactive.

Comment: Reactive is self-explanatory. Active means to see what is coming and prepares for it. Proactive, the most important, is to determine what is coming and have competitors react to the proactiveness. Managers need to be able to exhibit all three behaviors at different times depending on the situation. Proactiveness is the most important for change seeking success.

All C-leaders need to constantly talk about the imperative for change at every opportunity, and extol its value. Successes are trumpeted.

Comment: Such communications are vital to the entire organization understanding the values and expectations for proactive smart change seeking.

"Change agent" ratings of managers on a 360 review basis are regularly conducted.

Comment: Putting change seeking in the self-interests of top-to-bottom executives is an imperative. Such rating systems can achieve this.

Leaders constantly talk about industry events and changes, and constantly talk about what competitors are doing.

Comment: Keeping everyone aware of the external changes, treats and opportunities will have major impacts on the native understanding for the need to change. Thus when the change is announced it will be more accepted. Employees will do the calculus.

The company proactively and continually educates the entire organization about the Why, What and How of change.

Comment: Multiple levels of change-supporting training are continuously needed. This keeps change top-of-mind and provides the needed skills.

Makes change a contest between your "team" and the competitors’ "team." It is people against people. "Let’s beat those guys! No prisoners!"

Comment: Humans are competitive. And all competitors are made up of people as well. So who wins the change competition wins the business battle. Smart leaders foster this change competition atmosphere.

Lesser of the evils positioning is used when needed.

Comment: Employees are adults. They can handle adult information. This includes the alternative impacts if changes do not occur. Such messages need to be factual and reasonably delivered.

Score (32 possible; 24+ target)

The "muddy" or "frozen" middle (managers) must be actively evaluated also

These people are caught in the unenviable "shock absorber" position between:

  1. Management’s incessant results pressures, changes, restrictions and more; and
  2. Floor or desk level pushbacks by the people that have to execute the change.

Also, for their family's sake they fully realize that the position numbers on the promotion pyramid get smaller and smaller with each upward rung. Thus jockeying relative to competing peers is a key success factor. Probably the major elements of that process are:

  1. Do no wrong (make no mistakes); and
  2. Avoid losing power (turf, budget, people, control, etc.) in a shuffle.

In order to avoid change resistance at the middle management level, use these criteria also.

Feel free to use this change quality checklist internally, and share it as wanted.

The themes and ideas here are discussed further in the Amazon ebook, Primordial (Reptillian) Change Management.