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Leading Through Organizational Transformation

Disrupting traditional thought patterns and viewing transformation from an evolutionary lens places new demands on C-suite. "The world has changed, but our way of leadership has not. It hasn't kept up with the pace of the world. We need to adapt to the evolving world order to stay relevant," suggests Stephen M R Covey, Co-Founder, CoveyLink & FranklinCovey. Change leadership efforts go under several banners: restructuring, total quality management, mergers, reengineering, acquisition, and cultural shift.

Jennifer McCollum, CEO, Linkage, a SHRM Company, advises, "Success stories from the past indicate Innovation. Breaking silos within the organization is critical to driving transformational change. Empathy and compassion are the qualities that pave the way to drive incredible change amidst challenges and complexities." In a predictable environment, leading a traditional change initiative involves communicating the desired outcome, creating urgency, executing logical action steps, involving the workforce, and recognizing stages of success. However, when the transformation is seen as more evolutionary, adaptable, and geared towards improving an organization, distinct leadership stances and steps become apparent.   

Pump-up a Sense of Urgency

Most change efforts begin when someone with keen observation spots a crisis, potential catastrophe, or a window of opportunity. Subsequently, ways to communicate this information broadly are sought out. This initial dissemination of information is a vital step for a successful kick-off of a transformation program, as it signals the need for aggressive cooperation from targeted individuals.

People find it hard to come out of their comfort zone and collaborate if they don't see an urgency in the purpose. Assuming a defensive stance from senior staff, fear of downside possibilities, or a lack of patience are reasons enough to take the preliminaries lightly and paralyze the entire set of efforts.

By its very nature, change necessitates the development of a new system, which in turn necessitates leadership. "Leadership is a choice, not a position. Everyone can lead, and we need this at every level," suggests Covey. Transformation is almost impossible without an abled captain leading the program, supported by a well-developed brigade of leaders deployed at every checkpoint as change champions. A successful transformative leader deliberately creates a need for change, convincing people to believe in his belief.

Create Short Term Wins

Transformation is a protracted and cumbersome process, celebrating modest accomplishments or short-term goals helps maintain momentum. Most individuals will be reluctant to go for a long haul in the absence of compelling proof that the trek is yielding the desired outcomes.

When people discover that the major outcome is a long shot and will take a long time to realize the real change, the sense of urgency goes off balance. "In an effective transformation process, managers show noticeable performance improvements at each phase and reward people appropriately for successfully accomplished tasks," suggests Dr. Hemjith Balakrishnan, an Organizational Capability Building and Leadership Development expert. It is the managers deployed at various milestones who are responsible for actively creating short-term wins and rewarding people publicly, so they don't go off-rail and stay on course. 

Anchor Change in the Culture

For change to be perpetual, it must permeate the corporate stream. New behaviors are vulnerable to degeneration as soon as the incentive to change is lifted until they are ingrained in societal norms, values, and widely held beliefs. The two-pronged approach works well to institutionalize change in the culture.

Firstly, before people start to give inaccurate credit to other side gimmicks for improved results, make a conscious effort to show people how the new approaches, behaviors, and attitudes were instrumental in improving performance. Spend time in every major meeting discussing how the change initiative boosted performance. Brand the change initiative by showing its positive outcomes. This can be done by running articles and organizing events, particularly to celebrate improved results and toasting for the right reasons responsible for the feat. This way, staff will not link the improved results with inaccurate reasons or people.

Secondly, create an ecosystem where next-gen top leaders must personify the new approach. A decade of hard work can go for a toss because of a wrong succession decision for the top management position. McCollum says, "In today's business world and increasing dynamics, challenges can only be solved by exceptional leaders." When the time comes to abdicate the responsibility and transfer it to the new blood of leaders, the board must show discretion in making the decision. The board of directors must be an integral part of the transformation program since they are the ones responsible for selecting a change champion as a successor and keeping the stream running.

Final Thoughts

"Change means changing perspective," emphasizes McCollum. The key is aligning various forces within the organization — figuring out when and how to adjust various organization levers so that they all contribute to the same outcome. However, the levers that control people's behavior and attitude are the trickiest to deal with. This is where transformative leaders must take a quantum leap toward remodeling and redefining talent strategies for a successful and sustainable organization evolution.


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