Many corporate change programs fail to deliver the expected results. Gary Hamel, John Kotter, and others claim the failure rate to be around a staggering 70%. What is the role of executive teams here? How can executive teams increase the success of corporate change programs?
The past 25 years I’ve been having the opportunity to experience and witness firsthand what increases the success of corporate change programs and what doesn’t. On the one hand as board room advisor facilitating executive teams in how to translate the corporate strategy into corporate change initiatives (from strategy to execution). On the other hand as program manager of large corporate change programs managing the actual rollout of these complex change initiatives (making the change happen). It has taught me a lot, especially also about the role of executive teams and its effect on the program’s success.
Of course there are many different elements that define the success of a change program, but the role of the executive team is a crucial element.
How often have you heard one of the following complaints?
- ‘This program is going nowhere. It will never materialize. There is no sponsorship from the top.’ (Lack of involvement and drive from the top)
- ‘They can do whatever they like. As long as they do not bother us. We have more important things to do.’ (Two different worlds, the ‘business as usual’ world and the ‘program’ world)
- ‘When will this program ever deliver!? It is taking way too much time. What has it actually achieved? I have no clue! And in the meantime they are spending a lot of money and taking all our resources.’ (Too slow, no results)
- ‘What do they expect from us? That we simply implement this into the organization? Why didn’t we know this earlier? I don’t see how we can do this!’ (Big bang, too little time for adaptation)
These are just a few examples. And these are complaints that are directly influenced by the role of the executive team.
How can executive teams prevent complaints like these, and how can they increase the success of corporate change programs?
Here are 3 vital tips:
1) Create a specific connection between the change program and your corporate strategy
- Do it yourself, do not delegate this to others!
- Take the organization along on a journey. Explain the corporate strategy and clarify how the change program contributes to achieving the strategic objectives.
- Look your managers and employees in the eyes and bring your message across with enthusiasm and conviction.
- Create frequent moments of communication to repeat and reaffirm the strategy and express your confidence in the change program. Be there especially when doubt and confusion emerge, which will happen at moments during corporate change programs.
2) Choose! Set priorities!
- Avoid ‘analysis paralysis’.Stimulate managers, architects, analysts, engineers, and others to reduce complexity where possible. (read more here about how to avoid ‘analysis paralysis’).
- Stimulate people to think and communicate in terms of impact. Ask for potential choices and scenarios, and the pros and cons of each scenario. Challenge people to explain how these scenarios contribute to the successful execution of our strategy (read more here about how to stimulate people to think impact).
- Be there when tough decisions are needed. Stand up to take these decisions yourself if you see others are reluctant or afraid. Show your determination and confidence in the change program. Don’t allow complacency to emerge.
3) Actively steer on results and learning experiences
- Show your involvement to the organization! Not just at the start of the change program, but throughout the whole program life cycle. Set up a steering and governance structure in which you as executive team play an active role. Make sure the mindset of people is milestone and result oriented, rather than activity oriented. Focus on the results.
- Listen to the program team. Make the time! They are at the forefront of the change curve and have first-hand information on what decisions are needed and how these potentially impact your business. They are your eyes and ears, and can provide you very insightful information about the state of the organization.
- Engage the organization. Expect from management and employees to make the change program an integrated part of their daily operations, to be a partner of the program team, and to take ownership of the defined program objectives. Ask them on a frequent basis how this partnership can be improved based on learning experiences.
- And last, but not least: Do not blindly stick to decisions if results and learning experiences show you otherwise! Leading complex change requires agility and adaptability. People are not always comfortable enough to leave the chosen path. You setting the example will be vital! Not by changing course every other day, but by focusing on what we learn during the change program, and by showing how we can use this to strengthen our strategy and grow our execution skills.
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Aad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.