Organizational transformations are always more difficult, take longer and require more resources than we think. Especially in today's VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) global business environments. Twenty or thirty years ago, organizational change really could be "managed." Hence the term Change Management.
Today, significant change within companies requires much more than management. True leadership and visionary guidance is imperative. The days of one powerful, larger-than-life monarch single-handedly turning a failing company into an industry leader are long gone. And they probably didn't do it by themselves anyway.
Those are just the battlefield tales we hear. Most likely they used an old school command and control strategy, making decisions behind closed doors and then delivering their mandates in a leadership committee meeting or haphazardly to employees one or two at a time. This can work in slow moving industries and organizations where change can happen over a ten year period.
Things are much, much different now. Great companies filled with highly intelligent and capable people are faced with much more complex fast-paced environments. The obstacles come more quickly and the solutions vary. One single person simply doesn't have enough experience, knowledge or expertise to solve many of today's business problems. There are too many moving parts.
So what to competent leaders do? They assemble a powerful transformation task force, of TTF, as I call it. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I first need to point out that one of the most damaging powers behind important organizational change is the weak TTF.
This is where many companies get it wrong. Senior leaders reluctantly decide that major change is needed and that an investment of time and resources is in fact necessary. Being the busy people they are, and with the possibility that they may not see the need for urgency, they outsource this critical project to human resources and mid-level managers - giving them a false sense of autonomy. Long story short, the weak TTF is doomed to failure. Every time. These leaders loosely oversee the team being built, competent enough to make sure that some of the best managers in the organization are part of the team.
And therein lies a key problem - the difference between leadership and management, especially as it applies to navigating organizational change. Management is crucial. But not as important as visionary leadership. Most organizations today, especially growing ones, are heavy on management and light on leadership. When the majority of senior leaders (C-level, founders, VPs and above) aren't involved in the transformation task force several things happen:
First, everyone sees it and assumes senior leaders don't see the effort as a priority.
Second, the senior leaders usually don't get real-time intel on what's going on.
Third, senior leaders are better positioned to derail whatever the task force is trying to accomplish.
And finally, the task force doesn't have the power or credibility to make things happen, regardless of the competent and respected members.
Transformations must start as a top-down model while empowering key team members and constantly gathering bottom-up information from front line troops.
Let's say for example, Frank, a well-respected human resources professional with hundreds of LinkedIn recommendations and accolades is brought in to help transform a struggling oil and gas services company. The industry has been hit hard, lay-offs are imminent, revenue declining and stock value plummeting. Fear is rampant across the company.
The CEO, John, who has many tough questions to answer with a less-than-pleased board of directors, knows that Frank is the answer to all of their problems. While John is masterfully calming the board of directors and traveling across the country to find new ways to increase market share in a declining industry, Frank will be there to LEAD key transformation efforts. A perfect plan right?
I'll get to the point. Organizational change is not something that can be outsourced to human resources. Should HR be involved as a guiding light supporting the people and culture? Absolutely. But senior leaders have to be present and actively involved. Providing real leadership. Communicating the vision. Behaving in a manner consistent with that vision.
I know this because I have gotten it wrong and seen others get it wrong. Developing a powerful transformation task force that involves senior leaders is imperative. To better understand what the anatomy of this kind of team looks like, I created an acronym - I'm a former Navy SEAL, can't help it:
PEARL ( Players - Expertise - Adaptability - Reputation - Leadership).
A TTF based on these characteristics will provide the "pearls" of wisdom necessary to lead a company through times of change. I know. That was cheesy. But let's go with it.
A transformation task force that is properly staffed includes Players, people who believe in the mission. These will usually be key front line managers. Next, the TTF needs Expertise, the team members with diverse technical and relevant experience and insight into what changes need to be made and why. Then of course, this team needs all members to have a mindset of Adaptability. Next comes, Respect. All members of a TTF should be highly respected as positive change agents by their peers both below and above them. And finally, Leadership. And I don't just mean by title or position. These team members must act and be seen as impactful leaders within the organization.
Once, the right people are selected, trust and accountability have to quickly become part of the equation. This can be accomplished through a series of intense off-sight meetings, opening transparent lines of communication and assigning who is to be accountable, responsible and informed on each task within the transformation plan.
This is the best part about real leadership in dynamic changing environments - you can't and shouldn't go it alone.