10 Principles on how to Lead Change

by | Jun 25, 2014

Why is it so difficult to lead change? Sure, it shouldn’t be easy. But why is it so hard? According to a 2013 Strategy&/Katzenbach Center survey of global senior executives on culture and change management, the success rate of major change initiatives is only 54 percent. Wow, thats low. So what can we do about it?

A recent article by Strategy& outlines the 10 guiding principles for change that can help executives navigate the treacherous shoals of transformation in a systematic way. Here goes:

1. Lead with the culture. Lou Gerstner, who as chief executive of IBM, led one of the most successful business transformations in history, said the most important lesson he learned from the experience was that “culture is everything.” Business people today understand this. In the Katzenbach Center survey, 84 percent said that the organization’s culture was critical to the success of change management, and 64 percent saw it as more critical than strategy or operating model.

2. Start at the top. Although it’s important to engage employees at every level early on, all successful change management initiatives start at the top, with a committed and well-aligned group of executives strongly supported by the CEO. This alignment can’t be taken for granted. Rather, work must be done in advance to ensure that everyone agrees about the case for the change and the particulars for implementing it.

3. Involve every layer. Strategic planners often fail to take into account the extent to which mid-level and frontline people can lead change and make or break a change initiative. The path of rolling out change is immeasurably smoother if these people are tapped early for input on issues that will affect their jobs. Frontline people tend to be rich repositories of knowledge about where potential glitches may occur, what technical and logistical issues need to be addressed, and how customers may react to changes. In addition, their full-hearted engagement can smooth the way for complex change initiatives, whereas their resistance will make implementation an ongoing challenge.

4. Make the rational and emotional case together. Leaders will often make the case for major change on the sole basis of strategic business objectives such as “we will enter new markets” or “we will grow 20 percent a year for the next three years.” Such objectives are fine as far as they go, but they rarely reach people emotionally in a way that ensures genuine commitment to the cause. Human beings respond to calls to action that engage their hearts as well as their minds, making them feel as if they’re part of something consequential. So to lead change appeal on both the ration and emotional basis, and people in your organisation will support you.

5. Act your way into new thinking. Many change initiatives seem to assume that people will begin to shift their behaviors once formal elements like directives and incentives have been put in place. People who work together on cross-functional teams will start collaborating because the lines on the chart show they are supposed to do so. Managers will become clear communicators because they have a mandate to deliver a message about the new strategy and will themselves lead change.

6. Engage, engage, engage. Leaders often make the mistake of imagining that if they convey a strong message of change at the start of an initiative, people will understand what to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Powerful and sustained change requires constant communication, not only throughout the rollout but after the major elements of the plan are in place. The more kinds of communication employed, the more effective they are, which is why HP’s tearing down that fence was so important: Symbols reinforce the impact of words.

7. Lead change outside the lines. Change has the best chance of cascading through an organization when everyone with authority and influence is involved. In addition to those who hold formal positions of power—the company’s recognized leaders—this group includes people whose power is more informal and is related to their expertise, to the breadth of their network, or to personal qualities that engender trust.

8. Leverage formal solutions. Persuading people to change their behavior won’t suffice for transformation unless formal elements—such as structure, reward systems, ways of operating, training, and development—are redesigned to support them. Many companies fall short in this area.

9. Leverage informal solutions. Even when the formal elements needed for change are present, the established culture can undermine them if people revert to long-held but unconscious ways of behaving. This is why formal and informal solutions must work together.

10. Assess and adapt. The Strategy&/Katzenbach Center survey revealed that many organizations involved in transformation efforts fail to measure their success before moving on. Leaders are so eager to claim victory that they don’t take the time to find out what’s working and what’s not, and to adjust their next steps accordingly. This failure to follow through results in inconsistency and deprives the organization of needed information about how to support the process of change throughout its life cycle.

Read the full article here.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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