Vikas, a dear friend of mine, is currently engaged in transforming a strong and successful but stagnant division he manages into a more agile, nimble footed, growth oriented and externally focused one. How familiar does this situation appear to so many of us corporate folks! A much debated topic, change management is a phrase used very frequently but often without adequate depth and understanding.
A few of these corporate change efforts have been very successful and a few utter failures, most falling in between with a tilt towards the lower end of the scale. The process goes through a series of phases over a considerable length of time. Skipping steps only creates an illusion of speed and never produces satisfying results.
When businessess are preoccupied with consolidating their positions, stability matters. However in today’s turbulent economic times, organisations of all kinds must learn and change or perish. Status quo is not an option! Vikas and I have been discussing certain steps that can act as catalysts and make the effort successful :
– establishing a sense of urgency – when your competitive situation is under threat, it is crisis time. Bad business results can be a blessing in disguise as they force a reassessment of your positioning. The urgency rate needs to be pumped up sufficiently for the transformation process to succeed. Often executives become paralysed with the downside possibilities. They worry that employees with seniority will become defensive, morale will drop, short term business results might get compromised. Such a paralysis is an outcome of having too many managers and too few leaders. Renewal requires a new system which demands leadership and it does not go far unless real leaders are hired or promoted – quickly!
– creating a guiding coalition – change is extremely difficult and just cannot be brought about by the lone leader at the top. A shared commitment of a group to excellent performance through renewal is a key determinant of success. Someone needs to get these people together, help them develop a common assessment of company’s problems and opportunities and create a minimum level of trust and communication. Since people are so comfortable in the steady state, opposition and cynicism to change can build rapidly if there are not enough people supporting it.
– developing the vision and sharing it – painting a picture of the future that is easy to understand and easy to communicate is an absolute must to anchor and rally the employees. Vision is beyond numbers and clarifies direction. Without a sensible vision the transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing and incompatible projects that do not take the organisation anywhere. Once the vision is set, just communicate and over communicate as you need everyone to participate to make a success of it.
– celebrate short term wins – while vision is long term, shoot for some quick immediate success. That confirms the work of leaders, boosts hard working staff, undermines skeptics and reinforces belief in change effort. In a way this is just dissecting the big task into many smaller ones and celebrating one by one as you accomplish each.
– stay the course – the process of change can be hugely energy sapping. There are bound to be many disappointments and setbacks in the journey. The guiding coalition has to stay positive and demonstrate tremendous sense of purpose and commitment to the right outcomes. Also be prepared to learn and alter the course and stay practical all the while
An organisation’s ability to learn and translate that learning rapidly into action is the ultimate competitive advantage. I know the above might seem simplistic but then isn’t the most perfect way of going about any task by simply simplifying it!