It all starts innocently enough. Senior executives have formulated a new strategy, now they need to move that vision to the execution phase. It starts with appointing (aka coercing) an individual or group who will be the leader of the change, the “change agent.” Nothing could be more detrimental to the success of the initiative.
A few examples:
- A manufacturing company was dramatically reinventing the company to be able to respond to quicker to market changes and better align with changing customer demographics. A group of executive leaders were appointed to lead the change. Several hundred employees were moved from their day jobs and assigned to the redesign teams. They diligently worked towards the vision and were making good progress, even implementing some major changes. The effort began to lose its luster during the second year. Change is tough and some of the changes underway were proving to be difficult. This was the time for the executive team to step in. Instead it was revealed that they were not really on board and had been required to support the effort, with part of their compensation dependent on this. After that, it all fell apart and the organization was left with a foot in both worlds, never to fully recover.
- A financial services firm was examining back office spend and looking for ways to be more competitive, perhaps even be an outsourcer for its future state of the art back office functions to other agencies. After about six months of design work, which included engagement from all levels in the organization, the senior leader of the back office area admitted that he was not on board with the changes and could not support the implementation of the new design or organization.
- A group of government agencies was engaged in creating a shared services organization to enable better scale across the agencies and provide more services for citizens. The deputy director sponsored the work being done by a competent executive who reported to him. When the elections came, the current party was replaced by the opposing party, who had very different political motivations. The deputy director promptly made a turn-around in his support for the effort.
Change only happens when the head, heart and emotions of those leading the change are genuinely bought in. I talk to many clients who are engaged in a program that is truly transformational however they are struggling to get the needed buy in from the executives who are “responsible” for the changes. This should be a big red flag. Change is hard and it can only be navigated by someone with belief, passion and tenacity. Monetary incentives, bonuses or other extrinsic rewards will not be sufficient to garner support when the going gets tough…and it will.
So, don’t make this fatal mistake, find a passionate change agent who goes into the program with their eyes wide open, can weather the ups and downs and will deliver the vision.
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