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Senior Leader Accountability: Critical to Successful Change

NEW ORLEANS—CAVE people are still around.

They’re Citizens Against Virtually Everything, said Diane Stegmeier.

It’s up to HR professionals to make the business case to senior leaders for the changes necessary for an organization to survive a turbulent economy—and despite resistance from CAVE people.

Stegmeier led the mega session “Managing Change in Turbulent Times” June 29, 2009 at SHRM’s 61st Annual Conference held here.

She shared the results of her 10 years of research on 140 organizations representing 24 diverse industries. She studied “the commonalities of successful and unsuccessful attempts at driving change more successfully and making it stick.”

What she found: 15 tangible factors that impact workplace behavior and organizations’ success or failure in achieving their goals.

Those 15 influencers, she said, are:

  • Vision and mission.
  • Core values.
  • Image.
  • Culture.
  • Organizational structure.
  • Leadership behavior.
  • Autonomy and authority.
  • Compensation.
  • Rewards and consequences.
  • Performance management.
  • Communications.
  • Knowledge management.
  • Technology.
  • Business processes.
  • Physical space.

If your employees work as teams but your company still rewards individual “employees of the month,” how is that helping the organization influence necessary workplace behavior to accomplish its goals, she asked, pointing to the “rewards and consequences” influencer in one example.

It was one of numerous examples she gave to illustrate why it’s necessary to “make time for improving the workforce and to strengthen the organization so you do hit the ground running” when the economy turns around.

Stegmeier said she was inspired to hear the Sunday opening session keynoter Jack Welch “talk about fighting for what you need.”

It’s key that HR involve top leaders, but “leadership behavior is one of the toughest areas to overcome,” she said. “Not everyone is working for someone like Jack Welch who understands this. They need to help you; it’s a mutual effort.”

Senior leaders must be engaged but often they are not, thinking they are exempt from the very changes, such as layoffs, they are introducing, she said.

“It’s not just the job of HR to be on the front line of cutting positions,” she said as an example.

A lack of accountability among senior leaders is the No. 1 weak link HR executives encounter in trying to drive organizational change. Strengthening that link, she said, calls for presenting the business case for the change in question by educating executives on the correlation of those 15 influencers with workforce performance and organizational results.

Make the business case to the top leaders, Stegmeier told the HR professionals in attendance. Use, for example, work-time studies to demonstrate how increased employee autonomy and authority can result in a decrease in the number of interruptions leaders experience during the workday.

“You need to connect the dots over and over again” to make the correlation between what various changes can bring.

The organization also has to live what it’s projecting.

It’s not enough, for example, for company leaders looking to recruit the best and brightest college graduates to create an inviting physical space—a lounge-like workspace, free coffee, a whiteboard to record innovative ideas. Potential recruits will be quick to notice—and walk away—if the space is unused and “just for show,” with leaders and others behind closed doors.

During these turbulent times, the emphasis should be on strengthening the workforce, she said, and developing a sustainable platform for further change.

Stegmeier offered a free copy of her report, Managing Change in Turbulent Times, to those who e-mail her at

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor of HR News.


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