Over my career, I have seen stellar examples of change management, along with examples of very poor practices. One of the best examples came in a high-tech organization that had suffered a significant reduction in revenue and profits during a macroeconomic downturn. The impact was so bad that it was necessary to close or sell off large businesses and lay off much of the work force. This change was a critical save-the-firm event, and came with little questioning from the executive team. When the dust settled, the organization was a shadow of its former self. Although the loss of a job is a traumatic experience for any worker, and the loss of a job during a significant macroeconomic event is even worse, we sometimes forget about the impact on those that remain behind. Overworked and underappreciated, mourning the loss of their friends, without the vision that had driven them before, these survivors struggle to know how to go on.
The leader of this organization demonstrated one of the best examples of change management that I have seen by creating a guiding coalition. With individual and group discussions, through mandatory reading, using private and therapeutic sharing of personal impact, and painting a new and positive vision, this leader was able to re-invigorate a leadership team that had been beaten and bruised. The message was simple and clear. “The future is bright but different, and this crisis allows us to remake ourselves.” The critical requirement for each key leader to act as an emissary, as an apostle of the message, and as an untiring advocate for the novum coeptum was flawlessly articulated. This campaign wasn’t a threat. The passion of the leader made it hard to not be on board! We were there, not just to witness a phoenix rising from the ashes, but to be the caretakers of a new success. And as leaders in the organization, we became the best advocates for necessary change. We were that desperately needed guiding coalition.
Rolling out significant change requires significant help. It requires people you can trust, people that have worked with you to understand the need for change, the stakes and the sense of urgency. Your first battle is for the minds and hearts of those who will be your emissaries. They should be well respected, have authority to act, and possess solid decision-making skills. Choose them carefully, help them understand what needs to be done, charter them well and send them out to drive change into all corners.
In my next blog, I will discuss the need to break your change project into natural phases that can be used to show clear progress.