The Senior Leader's Role in Driving Transformation

The latest issue of McKinsey Quarterly contains a case study titled Developing Better Change Leaders. Using the backdrop of a multi-national operations improvement initiative, it addresses leadership development and organizational change and highlights the factors that make it possible to drive and sustain profound transformation. The case study underscores a number of important change leadership practices. Below, we touch on a few of the lessons and provide some additional insights.

Tie change leadership to business goals.

There is nothing better than a high-priority business initiative for executives to ply new change leadership skills. When executives take an active role in projects related to strategic initiatives, there is an even more powerful opportunity to support learning and development from the top to the bottom of the organization. Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) refers these efforts as “action development” because they hold the potential to develop leaders and the organization’s capabilities at the same time. Facilitated correctly, action development projects hold the key to:

  • Creating leadership cultures that enable organizational adaptability
  • Leadership readiness needed to address ongoing issues and unforeseen challenges

Master personal behavior change.

Too often executives ask everyone else to change, but in reality this usually isn’t possible until they first change themselves. It is important for leaders to understand how a mindset and its associated behaviors can either enable or hinder attainment of business transformation goals. Executives must model new behaviors in order to influence mindset and behavior change in their people. It would behoove executives to assess their own personal change agility before embarking on a major transformation effort.

Show highly visible sponsorship.

The most successful business transformations have executive sponsors who are active and highly visible. The executives’ role is to build alignment among other leaders around the change effort and provide unwavering support throughout the transformation journey. Ineffective sponsorship resulted in more resistance and slower progress for the effort. Prosci’s benchmarking studies have consistently identified active and visible executive sponsorship as number one in the list of top enablers of success. Conversely, ineffective change sponsorship was identified as the biggest obstacle to success.

Create networks of change agents.

Savvy executives understand that buy-in is a byproduct of active involvement in the process. One of the best strategies for enabling this involvement is through a change agents network. A change agents network brings together a representative cross-section of affected stakeholders and provides them with a role in the change process. In case you missed it, here is an overview of the change agents network strategy. When employed as part of a comprehensive organizational change program, this strategy is very effective.

Involve employees in the transformation journey.

As the McKinsey case study points out, executives should seek to take employees on a journey where it’s evident that turning back is not an option. Really good executives will aim to inspire people on an emotional level, to foster commitment. This involves engaging employees not just intellectually but also with heart appeal. Using a see-feel-act strategy approach, executives can connect to the deepest values of their people and inspire them to greatness. They will make the business case come alive with human experience – by engaging the senses, creating messages that are simple yet imaginative, and rallying their people around a greater good.

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