You have probably heard the common idiom, “Nothing is constant in life but change.” This idiom comes from the work of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who lived around 500 BCE (Ancient History Encyclopedia, n.d.). Heraclitus said that “Life is flux,” and further asserted that “All things come into being through opposition and all are in flux like a river” (AHE, n.d.), meaning that without strife [or change] we cannot grow.
It is the same for business. Leaders are tasked with endlessly moving step by step to the next goal. This becomes a problem when the continuous change becomes onerous and difficult for employees and leaders. If you feel like you are in constant change without the benefit of results, you are likely not planning your changes strategically and with your organizational design in mind.
I recently attended a performance of La Boehme in New York at the Metropolitan Opera. I watched the conductor as the lights dimmed and the orchestra began playing. I marveled as I recognized that the conductor – one person – is held responsible for the sonic output of hundreds of instrument-wielding individuals. The conductor keeps the entire orchestra on tempo while simultaneously directing each section to create a specific vision of the music, resulting in a highly refined score. The conductor is successful simply by planning each step, keeping the end goal in mind, and directing the orchestra accordingly.
If you see the correlation to business leadership, you are not alone. We use the term Alignment Leader® when we discuss the role key leaders play in managing change. Like the conductor, the Alignment Leader® carefully orchestrates the key aspects of the organization. Using strategic design and keeping projected outcomes in mind, true Alignment Leaders® understand their role: ensuring organization alignment, driving change, making difficult choices and trade-offs, and building capacity. The Alignment Leader® keeps the end goal in mind and directs each facet of the transformation to create that highly refined symphony of work.
If you are that conductor – an Alignment Leader® – in your organization, here are some key actions which you can use to minimize the turmoil and effectively manage non-stop change with your complete symphony in mind:
Follow an overall design process and stay with it
Creating your strategic design framework before moving forward is essential to navigating your business through continual change successfully. Stay disciplined with planning, meetings, and taking each step of the process. Continuously communicate your changes to your employees by explaining not only the what but the why – as this helps continue the positive emotional momentum.
Have a clear PME and communicate it to your employees
In a relay race, every runner knows the common goal and knows what their part is to get the team to the finish line. Everyone in your organization should understand the Purpose, the Methods of change, and the desired End-state, hence “PME.” Even if they understand PME, not all employees embrace change the same way. Create a feedback loop so you can hear the concerns of your employees, allowing you to pick up on issues and address them as they occur. Continue to communicate and create a culture of collaboration in which all employees can participate, which in turn can transform your employees into change partners. Socialize with all employees and be visible. An approachable leader is more likely to attract followers than a leader who stays behind closed doors.
Look at the horizon
Many times, leaders make choices to deliver on their capabilities and recognize the ripple effect that choices can have in the organization. As an Alignment Leader®, keep one eye on the horizon. Consider, for example, if you change your sourcing model, understand how this impacts other sections of the organization and coordinate accordingly. The new sourcing design may save money, but the change in lead times and the activities necessary to accommodate these changes will cause a ripple effect for which your organization may not be ready. Stay centered in your process and recognize that this seemingly innocuous change (even though it is needed) can create tremendous chaos inside the company. Avoid the mentality of changing everything at once. Each change must be carefully planned to keep your business competitive.
Just as a family trust is a way to take care of your family in case of an unexpected event, designing a step-by-step contingency plan to protect against possible negative outcomes will minimize the confusion that would reign without your planning. Alignment Leaders® understand that planning for the undesirable and unexpected will help the process if the unwanted does happen. For further information on how to prepare for contingencies, see our previous blog Planning for Contingencies.
Fulfill your promises. Say what you’re going to do, do it, and then explain what you did. Dale Carnegie said the same thing about presentations, “Tell the audience what you are going to say, say it; then tell them what you said.” You are presenting your company to your employees each day, and they need to know that you follow through on your promises, you do as you say, and you are trustworthy. Trust between an employee and leadership is important in executing company change. For the organization to successfully implement change, your employees need to trust their leadership.
Chart your progress. Early in my military career in aviation training, our instructors taught that one must be able to navigate with a compass and map and not rely completely on the on-board computers. We painstakingly practiced the aeronautical computations by hand following a plotted course line to the destination. We soon discovered that outside factors like the wind could mislead those careful calculations. For example, if a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles was off by only one degree, it would miss the destination by six miles. To stay on course and limit possible navigation errors, we used visual references along the route. If we did not observe the visual reference, we would circle back and search until we found the reference point. From there, we could continue navigating on the correct course, modifying our course corrections as necessary.
As you direct your organization, plan for key checkpoints. As you measure your results, make sure your checkpoints are in view. If they are not, adjust the course until they are. You do not want to end up six miles away from your goal. Continually measure, analyze, and then adjust, making sure that your organization transformation stays the desired course.
Just as the conductor of an orchestra keeps the music in harmony, following these key tips will help you direct the change efforts. With the end state in mind, you can lead your organization through change, creating your business symphony and realize the anticipated outcomes.
Remember: the only thing constant [in business] is change, but how you manage this change is usually the difference between mediocre and exceptional outcomes.
Ancient History Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Heraclitus of Ephesus. Retrieved from: https://www.ancient.eu/Heraclitus_of_Ephesos/