Successfully leading lasting change in any organization is more complicated than ever before. And mastering the art of organizational transformation is a necessity in today’s more volatile, uncertain and complex global business landscape. The workplace has become more digital, more diverse and more reliant on advanced technology, yet most organizations and their leaders have yet to understand how to leverage these new opportunities for increase efficiency and agility.
Similar to our post 9/11 approach in the special operations community, business organizations that are thriving, are rethinking their definitions of leadership and management and redesigning existing structures and cultures to align with a new marketing reality. They are dismantling old hierarchies and replacing them with networks and ecosystems of empowered teams and leaders at all levels. This creates a more nimble and adaptive team environment – and these new environments improve collaboration, communication and engagement, which in turn improves speed, efficiency, retention and profitability.
So how do leaders inspire change in the twenty-first century? By following these ten principles.
Culture: The Chief Enabler
Culture is the single most powerful tool for leading change. Leaders that understand how to diagnose their existing culture – identifying strengths and weaknesses – are better poised to align culture with the transformation vision. According the the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, C-level executives from all over the world agree that managing culture is more important than ever. Leveraging cultural strengths while mitigating the weaknesses is the foundation for positioning a business for lasting change.
Trust: Fueling the Change Engine
Trust is a critical cultural pillar for leading change. What is trust in an organization? An irrelevant social variable? Or does it have a direct correlation to the financial performance of a company. Human Capital Institute performed a study called Building Trust 2013: Workforce Trends Driving High-performance. A key data point? Employees working in high-performing companies believe their leaders and managers to be highly trust-worthy. Internal and external trust drives engagement, retention and financial performance – and its a fundamental part of fulfilling a transformation vision.
Accountability: Ownership at All Levels
Like trust, accountability has a direct impact on any company’s performance. Organizations that actively ingrain accountability into their culture outperform their competitors. And without accountability, change efforts fail or fall significantly short of the desired results. Successful leaders create the cultural experiences that reinforce the beliefs and mindsets required for people to proactively take actions – actions that drive the transformation results.
Mindset: Belief in the Mission
No transformation vision will succeed if the leaders don’t have a passionate belief in the mission. They first have to transform their mindsets to align with the vision before they can inspire others to change their ways of thinking. Successful transformation happens when the majority of people in the company have aligned beliefs – and when proper mindsets fuel consistent action.
Preparation: Gathering Intelligence & Planning the Mission
A core reason why organizational transformation efforts fail is because leaders jump right in and start in the middle of the process without gathering important data and feedback from inside and outside the company. No mission plan is perfect, but a data-driven approach that involves feedback from as many people as possible accomplishes two things: (1) Leaders have critical “intel” they may not usually have access to, and (2) they gain buy-in because everyone has a voice in the planning process.
Transmission: Communicating the Vision
This part is key. Many leaders either under-communicate a powerful vision for transformation, over-communicate a poor vision or transmit misaligned messaging. Leadership alignment must first be in place before an early-often-always approach to communicating the vision can happen. Communication should happen through both formal (meetings, newsletters, digital tools) and information (purposeful story-telling) channels.
Inclusion: The Power of Participation & Acceptance
Successful change happens when the majority of the people in a company have their hands on the rope and are all pulling in the right direction. Employee engagement is key. Unfortunately, according the Gallop research only 15% of the global workforce can be defined as engaged. This is both a leadership challenge and opportunity. Leaders and managers who can master employee engagement are more likely to fulfill their change visions.
Fatigue: Managing Fear & Staying Energize
One big obstacle standing in the way of successful transformation is what I call change battle fatigue. Most change efforts take longer and cost more (hard and soft costs) than leaders and managers anticipate. Fear and fatigue set it. The solution? Celebrating quick wins, constant transparent communication and purposeful story-telling. Continually reminding the team of the progress and telling the stories of how its getting done is how leaders mitigate fear and team fatigue.
Discipline: Focus & Follow-through
Without disciplined leaders there can be no disciplined teams. And without disciplined teams, people get distracted by competing priorities and lose sight of the transformation visions. Additionally, leaders that don’t remove obstacles that stand in the way and shift priorities to the activities that will fuel the change, will find costly disappointment around the corner. Creating a culture of discipline is imperative – and it starts at the top.
Resiliency: The Path to Lasting Change
Transformation in the twenty-first century isn’t just about reactively tackling the changes organizations face today, but readying the company for the changes they will face tomorrow. Resilient organizations are well-prepared for change – if not even embrace and evangelize change. They are constantly looking to the horizon for threats and opportunities. They bounce back from adversity stronger than they were before. Leaders that can build resiliency into the culture and business plane will be more likely to succeed in their change efforts.
Change is hard. Its costly. Its complicated. But its a functionality that leaders can’t ignore – they must master the art of leading change.