Brand Strategy. Brand Energy.
As companies and organizations grow in size, the executive leadership gets further removed from the work performed and the core capabilities of the organization. When there is an attempt to drive change from the bottom up, that usually indicates a lack of executive commitment and sponsorship. When there is a lack of executive sponsorship, those given the responsibility to facilitate the changes are hard-pressed to specify exactly what they expect from executive management.
Here are 11 critical actions that executives should take to ensure the success of any change program:
Executives do not build products or deliver services. Executives build organizations that deliver the products and services to their customers, and this responsibility cannot be delegated. Executives must be willing to be personally accountable for the success or failure of any change program
Executives must initiate any change program with a clear statement of the issues driving the change and the objectives they want to achieve. If the objectives are unrealistic or window dressing, the change program will be just one more failed initiative. Schedules and dates should result from planning, not catchy phrases and slogans or bonus cycles.
Any change must be planned and managed as a project. Executives must assign responsibility for managing the project, provide adequate resources and funding, review and approve the plans, review status reports and measurement results, and make informed decisions based on this information. The person assigned responsibility must be a strong role model for other managers and practitioners.
Executives must be aware of the amount of change and disruption that can occur in order to prioritize the changes and shield teams from change overload.
The person assigned to manage the change program normally has no power to enforce the improvements or change management behavior. It is a well-known fact if middle management does not support the activity, they can kill any changes. Only the executives can force middle management to align with the program. Executives must work with the managers to build consensus on the objectives, flowing down objectives and holding them accountable for achieving them. A Management Steering Committee that reports to executive management is an excellent method of involving the middle management and holds them accountable.
Executives must be very careful about incentives. Many times incentives will backfire and drive the opposite behavior from the intended results. Executives must ensure that incentives are aligned with the specified goals and not send mixed messages about the behaviors the organization values. Do not reward heroes; instead reward teams and groups whose sound practices avoid the need for heroes. Incentives must make it crystal clear that management values any and all contributions to building a strong organization, as much as it values individuality.
Policies that appear to be window dressing are a lost opportunity for executives to communicate their expectations for behavior in the organizations. Many times these policies are ghost written by someone else and given to executive management for his or her approval and signature. Executives must be more involved in writing and establishing the policies. Once written, executives need the visibility into the compliance by the workforce. An independent assurance group acts as the eyes and ear of executive management provides the visibility and provides executive management the necessary information to enforce policies and address noncompliance.
Executives need to communicate with the customers and set their expectations for what to expect from the change program and how it will benefit them. Often customers will perceive any change as bad, bureaucratic, and inflexible and may feel like they are being neglected. Then the managers trying to meet customers’ expectations may find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Executives own the responsibility for managing customer relationships.
Executives are responsible for the organization’s commitments, by approving external commitments and reviewing progress towards achieving the commitments. Internal reviews should spend as much time as reviewing work status as reviewing the status of the change program and impending risks. Executives should be looking KPIs of improvement progress and results on their dashboards.
The group assigned responsibility for making changes doe their bests to effect the changes and improvements. Executives own the problem of handling laggards, especially if they are in the management structure. For a change program to be effective, executive manage must be prepared to handle the difficult situation of removing people, even friends, for failure to make progress.
Pressures from demanding business schedules, cost cutting issues, market forces, etc., constantly bombard executives. Nevertheless, executives must stand firm in driving changes and improvements they know their organizations need. If they buckle under pressure, then their organization rapidly learns the art of excuses and any future change programs are doomed.
Of course there are other responsibilities that executives can assume to support change. But the points above have proven critical over the years since they require executive authority and leadership. Understandably, executives with little experience in managing change will feel concerned about risking their career on practices that have not contributed significantly to their advancement. It takes leadership to explore new trails, not to follow the well-trodden path.
Henry Schneider is the owner and principal consultant for PPQC, a small elite, highly specialized consulting company that rapidly delivers analysis and tailors solutions to maximize an organization’s earning potential. We help companies strike the balance between people, process, and tools by leveraging extensive experience across more than a dozen industry sectors.