You may think that avoiding politics, sticking faithfully to your strategy and working long hours are the secrets to making change happen in your company. But if you do, you’d be wrong, say Ellen Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand, authorities on corporate transformation.
In their new book,Stragility: Excelling at Strategic Changes (Rotman-UTP Publishing, 2016), Auster and Hillenbrand reveal why so many change efforts fail—leaving organizations weaker than when they began.
And they explain why managing politics, reassessing strategy and streamlining change projects are among the keys to achieving the continual reinvention needed in today’s turbulent marketplace.
The authors have called upon their own practices in Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and social-sector organizations; research; and the experiences of successful business executives to identify four “stragility” skills, each of which is linked to a key goal.
Those key goals are:
Redefining strategy to win. “Strategy is not something we can develop once and forget,” say Auster and Hillenbrand. Many companies make the mistake of “locking and loading” on a strategy and failing to systematically reassess if they are on the right track. “Our book explores how to determine if course corrections are necessary. For example, we explain how, after multiple mergers, Macy’s redefined its strategy to regain its connection with local markets and customers.”
Building support. Ignoring the politics around change won’t make them go away. The authors address how to navigate politics and emotions to build support and input. For example, when a new president took over at KFC at a time when corporate/franchisee relations were the worst they’d ever been, he succeeded by addressing the tensions and frustrations directly, rather than avoiding those political minefields.
Fostering ownership and accountability. Traditionally, companies “tell and sell” when it comes to change, but this fails to produce the necessary buy-in and engagement. “We urge organizations to 'go slow to go fast,' taking the time to build passion, engage with people, ask for ideas and input, and work through their concerns. When Starbucks was struggling in 2007 and 2008, the CEO invested in a galvanizing event for 10,000 employees, asking for their help in re-creating the company’s vision and then translating that vision into changes every employee could relate to.”
Creating successful change again and again. With the frenzy of change and the amount of work most employees have on their plates, change fatigue and even burnout are often the result. It’s important to prioritize and “bundle” initiatives to reduce change fatigue. For example, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he forced the organization to focus on only four products—famously turning the company around after being three months away from insolvency.
Ellen Auster is a professor of strategic management and the founding director of the Schulich Centre for Teaching Excellence at the Schulich School of Business at York University. She has more than 25 years of experience as an academic and consultant specializing in strategic transitions, transformations and turnarounds.
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