There may be great excitement for most people when moving to a new place of residence – usually an upgrade on what one had previously – but this excitement is typically counter-balanced by the arduous task of packing and unpacking, sorting and throwing out and coping with a messy environment. Of particular irritation is the fact that one has to deal with the previously neglected areas – stuff that should have been dumped but has been lying around for years due to one’s inability of being tough with sentimentality. The move, however, requires that this is tackled, no matter how difficult or irritating the task. It must be done!

Likewise in large-scale change initiatives, company leadership needs to tackle the change needed with difficult emotional, structural and relational issues in order for the intended change to be successful. When leaders shirk this responsibility, it results in organisational frustration, a ‘protect-myself’ attitude and ensuing selfishness. Managers need to continue with wave after wave of necessary change, not stopping until the vision is a reality, despite seemingly intractable problems.

John Kotter, in his book “The Heart of Change”, notes the following leadership behaviours that detract from success in change initiatives:

  • Developing a rigid four-year plan (need to be more opportunistic)
  • Convincing yourself that you’re done when you aren’t
  • Convincing yourself that you can get the job done without confronting some of the more embedded bureaucratic and political behaviours
  • Working so hard that you physically and emotionally collapse (or sacrifice your off-the-job life)

Earlier in a change initiative, the leader generally takes on some of the easier problems to establish a few wins and create momentum. Whilst this is good for maintaining levels of urgency and engendering a positive outlook amongst employees, respect will be lost and the vision will not be realised unless the leaders take steps to address the seemingly immovable silos and difficult politics. To grow a 21st Century business and successfully navigate the change process, leaders have to focus on the following actions:

  • Being clear of and communicating widely that which stays (values, quality, customer service excellence, etc.) and that which goes (bureaucracy, favouritism, duplicitous behaviour, etc.)
  • Using new situations opportunistically to launch the next wave of change
  • Increasing moments of meaningful collaboration and empowering teams and individuals to develop new ideas and find relevant solutions to issues
  • Dismantling bureaucracy and ridding the organisation of unnecessary reports, meetings, paper work and any other demoralising work
  • Showing empathy, but being firm on performance expectations
  • Listening intently – understanding the daily issues faced by employees on the floor and solving them together with the employees
  • Confronting bad leadership behaviour in line with company values and leadership standards
  • Dealing with emotion – demonstrating an openness to discuss feelings: fears, anxiety, anger, frustration, feelings of loss, etc.
  • Demonstrating the change imperatives through modelling and setting an example
  • Fearlessly facilitating solutions for the really difficult issues, using the company values as a foundation upon which to build practical answers

Leaders should not duck the more difficult parts of large-scale change initiatives, but rather tackle them head-on. A willingness to address sacrosanct organisational structures, processes and other seemingly untouchable issues engenders confidence and trust in employees and accelerates buy-in to the change process.

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