Most business leaders today would agree on two things – organisational change is constant, and leading change is one of the most difficult burdens of a leader’s command.
In this article, I want to look at the role leadership development should play in organisational change.
This topic arose quickly during a major transformation a company I previously owned was undergoing. We had been doubling in size (revenue and headcount) each year since our inception, but began to suffer from the inevitable growing pains all organisations face. We were outgrowing legacy systems and processes and needed a culture upgrade, new talent acquisition strategies, new divisions, new software programs, and a new approach to sales and marketing.
The list went on.
Addressing organisational change
While we knew that research points to the fact that the majority of major organisational change efforts fall short of meeting their intended objectives, we remained vigilant. However, some of the major hurdles most companies face during transformations include resources being stretched thin, competing priorities, new systems to learn, fear, fatigue, and managers facing issues they’ve never dealt with before.
So, when I proposed that we pile on leadership development programmes and emotional intelligence training to better equip ourselves to successfully lead through change, the eyes really started rolling! “Do you really think that is a priority right now?” one senior executive asked. “Budgets are super tight with the increase in headcount and investment in the new software program – not to mention the training everyone needs for these new systems,” a board member exclaimed. “In my opinion, we can’t afford not to invest in these computer programs. At the same time, if we don’t improve our ability to lead in dynamic situations, we will fail,” I said.
Key leadership challenges
As a former Navy SEAL, I knew that without sound leadership at all levels during chaotic times, the mission goes south. Fast.
So, I pushed back to support my case by reminding everyone of several key leadership challenges that could force us to become a sad statistic of failed organisational change:
- Leadership alignment (or misalignment) on exactly how to execute our change mission.
- Clearly articulating the changes needed across the organisation.
- Emotionally connecting the team to our renewed mission narrative.
- Underdeveloped middle managers (and some senior leaders!).
- Managing fear, fatigue, and conflict as unforeseen issues arise.
- Leading teams through various specific changes related to the larger transition.
- Maintaining trust and accountability.
- Handling all aspects related to maintaining (or improving) culture during the transformation.
My point was that this was the best possible time to invest in leadership development programmes starting with custom 360-degree feedback and overall sentiment analysis. By using that data, we could create actionable programmes designed to meet specific needs. As accountable leaders, we were going to have to mature and evolve in order to handle the unique obstacles that come with leading organisational change. Eventually, everyone got on board. Not only did the feedback and programmes improve our leaders across the organisation, it built trust with the entire company.
Why? Because everyone knew we were truly investing in our ability to lead them. Therefore, in a way, we were investing in each of them too.
READ: Culture Change And The Unpopular Leader
Choosing a leadership programme
For any organisation facing change (which is all of us), I recommend the following approach when considering leadership development programmes:
- Think outside the box and make the experience both highly valuable and fun.
- Ensure that the participants have enough bandwidth to be fully engaged and take advantage of the opportunity.
- Make sure that those participating have the seven mindsets necessary for successful leadership development.
- When appropriate and applicable, articulate to the participants the potential incentives for improving as a leader, such as more responsibility, upward mobility, or increased compensation.
- Ensure that the content and curriculum of the programme have practical on-the-job applications (i.e. if the company is experiencing widespread change, make sure change leadership is part of the programme!).
- Be transparent with the entire organisation (not just participants) about WHY the investment is being made and what are the positive outcomes to be expected.
- Begin with data collection and analysis, custom 360-degree surveys (or something similar), leadership assessments, and even organisation-level assessments – use that data to design programmes that not only address specific challenges (at the team and individual level) but also fit the timing of the changes in the company.
Leading organisational change always starts with a bit of mindset transformation because we usually have to pull time, budget, and resources from one important area to invest in another.
The reality: leading change is hard.
You can’t afford not to invest in leadership improvement. Doing so dramatically improves the chances of transformation success!
Transformation is an arduous task. How can organisations ensure employee buy-in and build trust? Watch this video!