Every conversation an opportunity
In the world of leadership training, conventional wisdom tends to focus on a set of discreet skills, such as thinking strategically, negotiating effectively and inspiring action.
These skills are essential, yes, but in my two decades of work with federal government clients, both defense and civil, I believe we are overlooking a key leadership quality: the ability to not just lead change but to facilitate change.
Setting out the vision of where your organization needs to go is just the first step. The real test comes in getting others on board for the ride. I have seen leaders who eloquently set a course for their organization, clearly communicating their goals and putting together the right teams to carry out the change. On the surface they are making all the right moves -- yet their change effort stalls or even derails.
What went wrong? I am convinced the human dynamic is most often the missing ingredient. Change -- whether it is an organizational structure change, technology transformation or cultural -- doesn't happen without people in the organization feeling ownership and making the change real.
Even the best technology is only as good as its full adaptation in the everyday business processes. And that only happens when real people use it in its intended capacity. This is exactly the challenge that President Obama articulated at a recent White House summit on modernizing government; it's an implementation problem more than a technology problem.
So how does a great leader get people to actually implement change? The key is tuning into the dialogue going on every day -- and creating an expectation that key managers are doing the same and acting upon it.
"Tuning in" means paying attention to the ordinary, to those daily dynamics occurring right under your nose. It means asking more questions than delivering new messages. It means observing body language in management meetings and in chance encounters in the hallway. It means identifying the people who are likely to influence their peers, either for or against change. Constantly gathering information like this is not always exciting. But it's sure to unearth the gray areas and pain points that need immediate attention. Only after these areas have been identified can they be addressed effectively.
These leadership behaviors engage people in the change, wherever they may be on the change continuum. For some, engagement can simply mean having a chance blowing off steam -- and know that someone is listening. For others it means offering constructive criticism or well-deserved praise. Tuning into these instances when an individual shares their thoughts or questions creates moments of opportunity for peer influence. And many moments of peer influence create that infamous wave that produces real change in the organization.
A true change leader seizes every interaction as an opportunity to facilitate that peer influence and drive the change agenda forward.
Stated simply, it takes real people to make real change. If change fails, it won't be the process design or technology alone that has failed. Odds are, the problem was all the people who nodded compliantly at the change but had no intention of taking part in it.
The job of change management, then, is too big for just one person. Leaders need to make sure that skilled change practitioners are embedded throughout the organization to create those moments of opportunity, stir up the peer influence, and ultimately make change happen.
March 19, 2010; 6:00 AM ET |
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