Harnessing Leadership Alignment to Drive Organizational Change

There isn’t an organization out there that isn’t implementing some type of change, some more transformative than others. However, very few seem to have cracked the code to get their leaders working in solidarity to make the change happen.

A common malady in many organizations is the “It’s not me – it’s them” leadership ailment. Many leaders get stuck in the mindset that they and their teams are just fine – it’s the others who need to change.

So, why is leadership alignment, collaboration and partnership just so darn difficult? If only everybody could get along…

It goes back to some of the basic theory I learned some years ago in graduate school: power and control are really powerful. You don’t make your way to a senior leadership position by being meek and unassertive, you likely possess a take-charge attitude and a track record of making important things happen. It’s no wonder that when you ask a bunch of Type A personalities to implement change, there is often a lot of jockeying for power and control.

Power or control in itself is not bad, the trick is to harness it and direct it towards good: the change you are trying to implement.

Three Tips to Foster Alignment

  1. A Strong Leader to Champion the Change & Hold Others Accountable – First, you need a strong leader at the pinnacle of the change who explicitly articulates what they expect from each leadership team member and from the team collectively. More importantly, they must hold all leadership team members accountable for demonstrating the behaviors that are required to make the change happen. This top job is not for the faint-hearted or for those who prefer to avoid conflict.
  2. Collaborative Team Members – Second, when determining who should be included on your leadership or change team, you should select those who display collaborative, teamwork-like behaviors in addition to strong performance results. You can do this by asking behaviorally oriented questions during the selection process or including behavioral assessments as part of the internal selection process. You can also ask for specific examples from prospective employee references if you’re interviewing an external candidate, or speak with a representative sample of peers when considering internal candidates. Having a team composed of leaders who have this type of profile will make it much easier to get aligned action.
  3. An Environment Where Candid Feedback is Welcome – Third, you can create an environment where open and honest input, dialogue and feedback is welcomed. Moreover, you should make sure to engage your leadership team in designing the change in an environment where all opinions, views and perspectives are considered. Once you land on a path forward, however, all leadership team members must act in alignment, even if their view was not where the team landed. It is then up to the team members to hold each other accountable and provide direct and candid feedback to their colleagues if they aren’t holding their part of the bargain.

Leadership Alignment in Action

Many years back I was working within a business unit that needed to realign its priorities and resources to support repositioning within the broader company. Several of the leaders were struggling with the idea of releasing and redeploying their resources. Instead of looking at the collective change that needed to happen, they were more focused on preserving their organizations and making sure they and their areas were still seen as important and vital. Having been in this type of challenging situation a few times in my own career, I know that letting go is easier said than done.

In this case, we recognized the internal conflict these leaders were experiencing and openly and directly discussed the business case for the change. We discussed the implications of the change, and the expectations we had for their areas and the other leadership team members’ areas as well. We provided them with the emotional and business support required to make the tough choices and decisions.

Essentially, we implemented the three tips outlined above along with some specific situational strategies, and I am happy to report that the team pulled together to make the change happen. While not everyone remained with the business, some by choice, others by necessity, upon reflection most felt good about the part they played. I would venture to say most of those who had fallen prey to the leadership ailment of “it’s not me – it’s them,” when now faced with change would say “it is me – it’s ALL of US.”

Lisa Geller is a senior consultant at AlignOrg Solutions and is also the founder of the Geller Consulting Group,  www.lisagellergroup.com, a human capital consulting firm that provides talent management solutions and executive coaching services.

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