While many organizations may talk about change, the reality is the status quo is very much alive and well and firmly entrenched. In 2016 the Harvard Business Review surveyed more than one thousand employees in different industries about how often they advocate for change. Forty-two percent said never or almost never; only 3 percent said always.
While organizations and their leaders tend to see themselves as forward-thinkers and innovators, the reality is more static. Too often change and flux is perceived as threatening or an aspersion that the current system is wrong. Our message is that realignment and organizational change is an opportunity for positive transformation and growth, both personally as an individual and collectively as a company. What worked optimally five years ago likely isn’t as efficient today because markets, economies, and clients’ needs are always evolving. For innovation to flourish it needs an environment where leaders not just advocate transformation but champion it by actively facilitating the change and offering support to the team while it’s in flux. We call leaders that perform these tasks or proactively champion change Alignment Leaders® .
Studies have shown that having Alignment Leaders is key to a successful organizational transformation. But Alignment Leaders don’t have to be C-suite executives; it can be the leader of a particular function or a key influencer within the organization because alignment doesn’t have to flow from the top down—and often doesn’t. Many times it starts in the middle of the organization or with a group of key functional leaders. It might be the head of HR for a massive global organization that initiates change in their department even though IT, operations, finance, and the other business units are maintaining the status quo. But all it takes is one champion, one Alignment Leader to initiate transformation in their area because as others on the periphery—from stakeholders to peers in other departments—see the improved efficiency and production, they want to share in what’s going on.
In retrospect it’s easy to see how alignment and transformation benefits the organization, its employees, and clients. But when faced with change, most people take a better the devil you know than the devil you don’t defensive stance. People resist change because it represents the unknown. So becoming a champion or an Alignment Leader of an organization transformation can be both an emotional challenge as well as a practical one. Here are some keys to successfully champion organization transformation.
Communication. More often than not as we begin to go through our strategic organization design with an organization, others start identifying misalignments in their departments or areas of supervision, and they ask what they can do to improve. How you manage those discussions is critical. The first question that comes up is usually: Why are you doing this? One of the key things an Alignment Leader can communicate to any observers is helping them understand what misalignments already exist within the organization and why change is beneficial. If that system or business unit is not getting its desired results with the current operating model or if they’re not getting them efficiently and effectively, then clearly the organization is not optimally aligned to deliver its strategy. This isn’t about assigning blame; this is about explaining the benefits of transformation. All elements of transformation management must be communicated as an opportunity to optimize its strategy; not as a failure.
Assessment. One of the most critical roles of the Alignment Leader is to understand the corporate change environment and respond accordingly. This means the Alignment Leader must assess both individuals and business segments to ascertain where they are in the transformation process and then act accordingly. This entails taking into account the following:
- individual, key leader, and organizational understanding of the need for the transformation and the desired results
- level of interest and excitement for the transformation
- key individuals/leaders’ level of influence to effectuate or hinder the transformation and their abilities and skills to manage the change
- resources needed to assist and facilitate the change, such as a project manager and supporting business systems
Intervention. Once you have a sound assessment of your organizational change influencers, you now begin to work on progressing them through the transformation process. For some individuals and segments of an organization, this may be easy, while other persons or groups may be quite challenging. Regardless, enhancing buy-in is extremely important and should not be taken for granted, This enhancement can be accomplished through a variety of methods such as:
- awareness building and socialization
- road mapping the change process to show targets, critical events, etc.
- using information and metrics to express the need for the change and how the expected results will be measured
- implementing a training or skill-building plan to accommodate any current deficits that are needed under the new design
- developing conduits for feedback to ensure all employees can express their concerns
- sharing success stories along the way to build excitement and positivity around the transformation; a good transformation PR campaign can be very effective
Our recent work with key leaders of a global floor coverings company reiterated the tremendous benefit the Alignment Leaders’ approach brings to an organization. They spent exhaustive effort communicating, assessing, and intervening on their organizational transformation at every step. So much so that it became a regular discussion at most business meetings. Change was talked about, change was embraced, and change management tools were applied at every major move. Because of this, overall transformation timelines were shortened, and expected results were realized faster than anticipated.
Although we don’t know the precise dollar amount of the financial benefits this transformation realized, key executives state they were noticeable. Next time you have the opportunity to lead or participate in an organization transformation, take note of the role of the Alignment Leader and these critical change management techniques.