Eighty-eight per cent of change initiatives and business strategies fail to deliver. The reason why change enjoys such a spectacular failure rate can be neatly summed up by one word: leadership. Strategic change expert and author of The Change Catalyst, Campbell Macpherson, shares some change leadership strategies that work.
Change leadership isn’t the thing. It’s the only thing
The ability to lead change successfully is the most important skill that any leader or leadership team can develop because, if you aren’t leading change, you aren’t leading anything; you are just managing the status quo.
Change is inevitable. Unfortunately, successful change isn’t. Seven times out of eight leaders fail to provide clarity of direction or understand the implications of the change; they fail to address culture, to appeal to their people’s emotions. They become complacent and allow process to overrule outcomes. They inadvertently set the project up to fail and take their eyes off the ‘prize’.
Doing things a little differently
Your change leadership can be different. With the top tips outlined here you will be able to help your people embrace the future and ensure that your next strategy or change initiative enjoys outrageous success.
Ten ingredients for successful change:
1. A ‘change catalyst’ to drive delivery
2. Strong, committed, aligned and unwavering leadership team
3. Complete clarity about what we are trying to achieve and why
4. Laser-like focus on the outcomes
5. Detailed understanding of the implications of the change
6. Find the emotional triggers
7. Genuine engagement of people at all levels of the organisation
8. Clear governance and thorough planning
9. A change process that includes a ‘pause for reflection’
10. Establishment of a change-ready culture.
Let’s touch on a few of them…
Fight for clarity
Make sure your people are crystal clear about what you are trying to achieve – and why. If your people are going to deliver the change you require they must know why things are changing, what the future looks like and how they are critical to its delivery.
Understand the implications
Unintended consequences have scuppered many a new plan. Whether it is a new strategy for the company, a new IT system or an enhanced recruitment process, every change comes with its own set of consequences: implications for the team, the department, the organisation and the individuals involved. Explore every key implication with your people – and get their help in working out how to mitigate them ahead of time.
Be obsessed with outcomes
Never be fooled by a good, solid process – it is merely an enabler. A process without an outcome is a road to nowhere. As a change leader you need to be focused to the point of obsession with outcomes – ensuring that what we are seeking to achieve never gets buried in the multitude of meetings, reports and all-staff communiques. Continually check whether the original outcomes are still valid and never stop probing to see whether the project is on track to deliver the outcomes the business requires.
Appeal to your people’s emotions
‘How many school staff does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.’ People only change if they want to – and emotional commitment is four times stronger than rational commitment. If you want your people to change, you will need to understand and appeal to their emotions – and everyone’s emotional triggers are different. Logic alone simply won’t cut it.
Genuine communication is two-way. Good leaders spend much more of their time listening than they do telling. Engaging with people involves genuinely understanding – and caring about – their perspective. To succeed, you must do this with all your stakeholders – your employees at all levels, students, parents, school partners, suppliers, trustees, governors and even members of the community in which you operate. No person or organisation is an island!
Create a change-ready culture
Culture is critical. It dictates how or if your people deliver the strategy. You will need an environment where people eagerly look for improvements in the way things are done, are allowed to question the status quo, are encouraged to learn from failure and are open to new ways of working. An organisation gets the culture its leaders create.
A change process that includes a pause for reflection
Mid-term inertia is a disease that destroys large change initiatives, especially technology programmes that routinely run longer than anyone could ever have imagined and cost multiples of the original budget – sometimes before being scrapped altogether.
The initiative gathers such momentum that it becomes politically impossible to jump in front of the ‘run-away locomotive’ to question whether the direction or the destination is still valid. Facts change, and change projects should change with them. Not everything is knowable upfront and some implications become apparent only during execution. The savvy change leader knows this and builds in one or more pauses for reflection along the journey.
Identify a change catalyst
You will also need a change catalyst; someone to guide the organisation to the ultimate delivery of the outcomes the business needs. A change catalyst’s strength is a focus on outcomes; a project manager’s strength is an ability to drive process. You will need both.
This article featured in the December/January issue of Education Executive. Subscribe now to keep up-to-date with the latest in school business management and leadership.