Leading Change – the 15% Solution

The most dominant discussion thread I constantly have with clients today is about change management, and this is massively relevant in these times of rampant globalization, and this uncertain climate.

Companies today simply cannot go out and hire teams of executives with deep outsourcing and offshoring experience – they are hard to find, expensive and often don’t understand your specific business needs (horses for courses…). There simply is no defined curriculum for managing change. Companies need their change leaders to lead from the front and bring out new qualities and skills from their existing people.  To this end, I am humbled to receive this guest article from one of the most respected practitioners in sourcing folklore…and certainly the finest to hail from Canada ;)

In her recent past, Linda Tuck Chapman led the sourcing efforts at Fifth-Third Bank (as Chief Sourcing Officer), Scotiabank and BMO Financial Group and now runs her own boutique strategy firm called ONTALA Performance Solutions.  Linda also studied under the tutelage of my father-in-law during her MBA, and claims to have been a model student.  Anyway – over to you Linda to discuss executing a change strategy in this economy:

In all companies, 15% of employees are change leaders. To successfully implement change in your company’s culture or operations, you’ll need to find this amazing 15% and recruit them as your champions of change. Unleash them and you’ll find the energy and power necessary for effective change management.

At the heart of any change are people helping, hindering or indifferent to the change agenda. So how will you lead them?

Most business leaders are familiar with change guru John Kotter’s eight step change management process. These steps …. 1) create a sense of urgency 2) pull together a guiding team 3) develop the change vision and strategy 4) communicate for understanding and buy-in 5) empower others to act 6) produce short-term wins 7) don’t let up 8) create a new culture….. will guide your journey.

Chaos in financial markets and a looming recession create a burning platform for change. It can just as easily paralyze organizations. Your people, your customers and the market are looking for leadership. For your organization to survive and thrive, they need to find it.

As a leader, you must be decisive. You also need to trust your own judgment and accept advice from people who have proven to be reliable. Fact-based decisions are critical, but you can never have all the answers and may have to act before you’re ready. In an orderly world, “ready, aim, fire” makes sense. Today’s order may be “ready, fire, aim”.

In the words of management guru Peter Drucker “start with the end in mind”. But any road will take you there if you don’t know where you’re going. So, do your homework, make decisions, commit to those decisions, and then get on with it! Indecision is a killer, and wrong decisions still produce better results than no decisions at all.

It is surprising how frequently leaders are unable to articulate what the end state should look like. Whether you call it a vision, a strategy, or an action plan the organization is looking to you for leadership, and followers can’t follow if they don’t know where they are going.

The first step, working with a handful of trusted advisors, is to describe what success looks like. What are your guiding principles, timing and expected outcomes? Be clear, be concise, be brief. This is the elevator speech, rallying call and beacon for the organization.

Once your vision is clear, work backwards to establish the milestones that will mark progress. Your guiding team should be that magical 15%, and should be drawn from all levels in the organization. They know the landscape and will establish meaningful milestones. At this point, you should build the 10 minute synopsis of the strategy and key action steps. You’ll need them to sell the change agenda across the organization.

Next, subject matter experts and leaders will need to develop a detailed execution plan. You may have to begin executing the plan before it’s finished, so make sure you articulate key milestones. This will ensure you stay on track, size the effort, can celebrate successes, and keep moving forward. In cases of significant change, establishing a program office to enable momentum, deal with issues and sustain gains.

The most common cause of a failed change agenda is a failure to adequately communicate. A comprehensive communication plan addresses internal and external stakeholders will determine what they need to know, how to communicate, and how often they’ll need information. In times of change, no matter how well and how much, it is rarely enough.

People fear the unknown. At a deeper level, they fear it will adversely affect them personally. Can you tell the difference between fear and a healthy sense of urgency? Here’s an easy test. People who are overwhelmed or gripped with fear stop blinking. When they regain control, they start blinking again. Look around, you need everyone to be engaged and contributing.

As a leader you must be open, be truthful, deal with conflict and personally deal with people issues. Especially when outsourcing. Especially at this time when many people have lost their savings and are worried about their future, the future of the company, the future of the economy. An outsource service provider recently told me that a client company transferred employee terminations to them when the contract was awarded. Imagine their reputation within the client company after the terminated employees were transferred to them, then immediately terminated. What were they thinking?

Make use of communication vehicles like company news letters, which are read from cover to cover during turbulent times. Executive Steering Committees can have a powerful influence on change laggards. No one wants to see their department or division sitting in last place on a scorecard. Nor do leaders enjoy explaining to peers why they are so far behind. When outsourcing, have you thought about introducing two-way satisfaction surveys? They can shed a light on progress and issues if you invite your service provider to score business units and relationships.

As change is implemented, bring visibility and transparency to the results. Quarterly scorecards that mark progress against milestones should be published and discussed. Highlight successes and recognize change leaders and their accomplishments. As a leader, try to let your people to “fail forward”. Listen when they bring forward viable new ideas. Help them to become change leaders and support them even if things don’t turn out quite as planned. Mistakes are essential to progress, and the objective is to succeed, not to count mistakes. Don’t turn your tigers into turtles.

Under thoughtful and decisive leadership, your magic 15% will lead by example, bringing about positive change. Their example will motivate the next 15%, who will soon catch fire and embrace change. And so on, until change leadership becomes part of your culture.

Linda Tuck Chapman is CEO and founder at Ontala Performance Solutions Ltd. and can be emailed here.

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9 Comments

  1. Daniel Smith
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Fear of the unknown is definitely the major obstacle, but one bi-product of this current economy is that many people are being forced to accept new roles, responsiblities and ways of doing things. The following statement sums up the current situation for many change-leaders:

    “As a leader you must be open, be truthful, deal with conflict and personally deal with people issues. Especially when outsourcing”

    It really is all about people – and sometimes adverse times like these are the necessary catalysts to change behaviours and attitudes,

    Daniel

  2. Posted October 29, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Linda, great article. One of the biggest obstacles that I have personally faced on leading major transformation efforts including outsourcing is the lack of focus by the leaders on the “doers” or middle management – managers, supervisors, etc – who have staff and are responsible for processes. This middle level of the organization are the resources or true leaders who will be expected to implement systems or transfer process externally and all to often this key group is missed. This group is also the group that without proper engagement will severly resist change and will potentially derail progress.
    You stated that “Your guiding team should be that magical 15%, and should be drawn from all levels in the organization” and by performing stakeholder analysis (for change management) early in a project and identifying middle management as a key group as champions or obstacles to the project. You can then develop a process to help enable them to lead through the change or ultimately own the implementation of the change, which will only further help organizations navigate obstacles.

  3. Linda Tuck Chapman
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Daniel, you touched on an interesting aspect of change. Anyone can say they’re a leader, but a true test of leadership is how you behave under intense pressure. The glass can seem half empty or half full. Based on your comments, you are a glass-half-full leader.

    Most people sincerely want to make a difference, and this can be a time to stretch and grow. Getting a couple of months under the belt will take the pressure off, and imagine how much broader and skilled people will become after they have learned how to swim in the deep end of the pool. Chin up!

  4. Linda Tuck Chapman
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Kevin, isn’t it interesting when leaders forget that without followers they have no purpose? Your comments that “doers” and mid-level managers may be overlooked as change champions is right on. Without engaged support at all levels, change agendas invariably fall far short of expectations. This, along with inadequate communications, a common causes of failure.

    I used to work for a company where people talked about “engaging the heart”. This can only be achieved through participation and empowerment.

  5. Posted November 3, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Linda,

    Excellent article.

    I believe that a prudent approach to effecting change begins with “buy in,” from the Chief Executive Officer. Once this has been obtained, I recommend that a well defined methodology be developed and carefully followed in order to meet or surpass expectations.

    Marc

  6. Posted November 3, 2008 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Having spent the past 3 years working to implement a Global Services practice for a Chinese software company, this article resonated strongly – especially the “indecision” part. I find that consensus building is even more important to implementing change in this culture. It is a long, and sometimes painful process. It seems that “Any decision is better than no decision” translates to “No decision is better than any decision.”

  7. Linda Tuck Chapman
    Posted November 5, 2008 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I am intrigued by the comments regarding outsourcing to China. Is there anyone else out there who has some interesting experiences to share?

  8. Linda Tuck Chapman
    Posted November 5, 2008 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Tim, you’re so right about having senior level support, the higher the better! Do you use a formal methodology to manage change?

  9. Youa Saychou
    Posted November 19, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Spot on! I couldn’t agree more with Linda.

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