9 Part Blog: The Reasons Transformational Change Can Fail – Reason 2.
One of the defining qualities of a good leader is their ability to communicate a vision of what is possible. They also engage others to strive to achieve that vision. It is a quality that stems from their personal belief in themself and in the capability of others. However, leadership has other aspects that go beyond inspirational talk. Excellent leaders connect with employees and speak to how their efforts are crucial to the company’s success. They have a relentless focus on accountability and achieving results. They also have integrity and are authentic, which is why employees readily follow their direction. No doubt, this type of leadership is a high bar to achieve. It is a requirement of successful modern business leaders whether they be executives or managers. When poor leadership is present, it fails to meet these standards and can derail transformational change.
Impact of Poor Leadership at The Executive Level
Without strong executive leadership, it is very difficult to achieve success when implementing transformational change. During periods of change, employees look to their executive leader for understanding and direction. If an Executive does not share in the company’s vision and direction, it will quickly become apparent to staff. This then leads to confusion about the overall intent of the change and can impact employee participation and support. So, it’s key that the executive supports the company’s vision. If not, then a career discussion needs to occur between the CEO and the Executive. There is no way around this. It is a serious mistake to ignore an obstinate executive. This is so, especially when they have had the opportunity to provide constructive input throughout the strategic planning process.
Another consequence of weak leadership is when an Executive demonstrates half-hearted support for an initiative. Employees will often interpret this as a sign that the initiative won’t last. Consequently when they are asked to contribute above their daily responsibilities or move outside of their comfort zone, they do so reluctantly or resist. In some cases, employees will provide excuses when performing what is asked of them, believing that they the initiative won’t succeed, so why should they bother in participating.
The Worst Case of Executive Leadership
One of the worst examples of poor leadership is when an Executive publicly supports an initiative, but privately speaks critically about it to their Managers. This can occur when an Executive has come up through the ranks of the company and has deep connections with their staff. It is understandable for an Executive to have some reservations about the scope of an initiative. However in their role they need to resist sharing their thoughts. Doing so is a sure way to set themself and the initiative up for failure. It also doesn’t matter how trustworthy staff members are, critical comments will eventually become common knowledge. When this happens, it impacts the degree of effort staff puts into supporting the transformation.
If an Executive does not have the leadership skills to lead their area through the change, or the resolve to see it successfully adopted, they are in the wrong role.
Impact of Poor Leadership at The Managerial Level
The role of the Manager is one of the most challenging positions in any organization. They are responsible to manage and provide leadership support to staff, achieve goals and targets, prepare ongoing reports, shield staff from “above”, and manage the politics that come with their role. Of the many studies have been done on the reasons change management fails, one consistent finding is the lack of managerial support for an initiative.
It is important that Managers understand the new processes and tools that are to be implemented. This is because they are responsible to work with their staff to ensure that they perform their roles according to any new procedures or approaches that are required. Managers are also required to not only manage, but to also communicate and model behaviors to set new expectations related to performance and results. Some of the challenges Managers often face which can affect their support for an initiative can include:
- Uncertainty on how to provide leadership and management to their staff if challenges or resistance surfaces.
- Frustration due to their boss’ lack of guidance or support.
- Doubts about the competency of company leadership based on the failure of past initiatives.
- Self doubt about their ability to manage their staff through the change.
Supporting Manager Leadership
Companies successful at implementing transformational change focus on getting ahead of these potential challenges by educating their managers on:
- The purpose of the transformation.
- Its impact on the business and customers.
- How their roles and those of their staff will evolve.
- The types of challenges they may face pre, during and post implementation along with strategies to minimize disruptions.
This type of training begin to normalize the transformation with the management group. Companies that are successful at transformational change understand the critical importance of training their management teams on what to expect prior to beginning any new initiative. Consequently, Managers are able to deal with the challenges that come their way as they transition to the new approach.
In the next blog, I will discuss the danger of assuming that all transformational change is the same.
This article is based on my forthcoming book Rethinking Change Management; How To Implement Transformational Change For Long Term Success, which will be publishing later this year. If you find this article helpful, please share and subscribe to our blogs and newsletter. Stay tuned for further details.
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