Transformation is going on inside first, the external comes quite naturally and without extreme effort.
By Rob Hartz
It is difficult to name an industry or company that is unaffected or only marginally affected by a myriad of powerful forces that wreak havoc on old assumptions, familiar thoughts, and outdated and ineffective actions. The forces of change –technological, cultural, geopolitical, and philosophical --seem to have united in a conspiracy to confound political and organizational leaders worldwide. Long established and well-respected retail chains contend with a world of order fulfillment through Amazon and other on-line outfits that appeal to the customer’s demand for choice and efficiency. In order to get reimbursed, hospitals now have to look at a dizzying array of metrics measuring health outcomes over extended periods, as opposed to only paying attention to the patient experience while in the facility. Data breaches are endemic. Internet security has eclipsed other business concerns. Customer and employee expectations of the organization continue to grow as government policy shifts create new levels of uncertainty and angst.
At times, it feels as if the bottom has fallen away. Yet, despite the insufferable noise, every organization has a cadre of individuals (not necessarily managers) who distinguish themselves as ones who can make out the signal. They are intellectually adept at identifying underlying trends while exhibiting a level of emotional maturity that allows for surefooted assessment of the risks, rewards, and potential for significant transformation.
The superior leader in today’s fast-changing world is working hard to interpret the world as it now presents itself, while finding meaning in the work for oneself and encouraging others to do the same. The leader’s role shifts from simply offering insights and direction to a more nuanced role of ensuring the organization is change ready, focused on the right issues, and fully accountable for building and executing plans that are supported and supportable.
The leaders primary concern is having impact. He or she can no longer do it alone. Individual impact, while still valued, is insufficient. Instead the leader’s focus is on building alliances and identifying change leaders throughout the organization. The modern leader takes full accountability for engendering and focusing organizational impact that positively effects customers, markets, and cultures. Leaders must prepare themselves, their clients, and their colleagues to participate in the exhilarating and fear invoking enterprise of designing the future together.
Traditionally, transformation efforts are driven by change consultants applying a highly disciplined approach by acquiring and analyzing data, sensing relevant trends in values, thinking, and consumption, and then determining where lie the risks and opportunities. This data-rich approach remains relevant by adding a degree of objectivity coupled with useful models, and grounded assertions about the future. Nevertheless, one might rightly wonder if the traditional approach will actually yield the outcomes we are seeking, including revelatory insights, unifying and compelling organizational purpose, and an unrelenting commitment to design and make manifest a future that can be celebrated rather than tolerated.
When the Personal Becomes Predictive
Traditional approaches to change management including business modeling, technology reviews, and strategic dialogue, continue to encourage leaders to see the unvarnished truth of the state of a given industry, company, or societal reform effort. These efforts are laudable in that they help leaders break through the fog of slanted reporting and overly optimistic projections coloring their perceptions of what’s really going on. In my experience leaders who are willing to invest time, money, and reputational capital in such activities do so through a combination of intellectual curiosity, integrity, and a very subjective element, often expressed as a “gut check” or vague feeling of discontent. We celebrate those leaders willing to pursue a path that typically involves some level of disruption, discomfort, and even despair. And, here lies the problem as well as the opportunity.
We feel powerful as leaders when we sense we have a grasp on the future, control of our business, and attain a clear-eyed view of the challenges ahead. Conversely, we feel hobbled when we find that we are unable to fully articulate organizational purpose and feel constrained by long-standing cultural norms and practices.
Without discounting or discouraging efforts to expand awareness of external realities in any way, the introspective leader has learned through experience that change begins at home. Or said another way, one human can’t directly or substantially change the outlooks and perspectives of another. Therefore, the initial object of our passion for change is our own selves in all our brilliance, generosity, self-sacrifice, as well as our shortcomings and attempts to live up to unrealistic standards we impose on ourselves and others.
The concept of change readiness provides a necessary catalyst to the transformation process as we understand it today. The following is a summary of what successful change leaders across a variety of industries and sectors have taught me over the past 20 years.
Personal change readiness is the psychological state of balance and composure in our assessment of ourselves and the world around us. It is a state where we acknowledge our passions, capabilities, and emotional defenses in order to accept both the need to change and our personal responsibility to ensure that this change is neither short termed nor superficial.
Team change readiness is the sociological state of group coalescence around shared purpose and common language. It is a state where executive teams, boards of directors, or steering committees, establish and foster a strong sense of belonging and a shared and thoughtful commitment to engaging others to assist in designing a positive future for all stakeholders.
Organizational change readiness is the transcendent state of shared obligation, application of skills and knowledge, coupled with a firm belief in pursuing a path toward success that can be respected. It is a moment where the entire enterprise experiences satisfaction and pride in both the quality of the work and tangible outcomes stemming from a firm commitment to a client-focused, people-first approach.
Why Change Readiness Matters
Any leader who counts him/herself as fully accountable begins by identifying their own biases and preconceptions. This is not a judgement, rather a statement of fact describing the universal human condition. The biases and polarities we are primarily interested in are those most likely to negatively impact our ability to perceive with accuracy, to influence with authenticity, and to think with flexibility. It is, after all, a combination of our aspirations, fears, defenses, and self-image that emerges in us and forms our unique worldview. Worldviews assist us in making sense of the world and in taking intelligent action in a given situation. Likewise, an entrenched worldview can impair our capacity to perceive or value data that resist being easily categorized and explained. In a stable and predictable world, an unshakable worldview can be a great asset; in a world of uncertainty it becomes a liability. Full accountability means taking ownership of one’s worldview by examining it, testing, and considering how to revise it or reject it in favor of a more promising way of thinking. It is unlikely that transformation (e.g. change that is insightful, lasting, and meaningful) will be the outcome if these three levels of change readiness (personal, team, organizational) have not been satisfied or developed.
Knowing Oneself, Knowing One’s Organization
How does one go about assessing various levels of change readiness? All organizations keep score by way of hard data, as in organizational metrics, and soft data, as in feedback, performance reviews, and now measures of social capital. Yet, the same pressures that seduce us to see the world in a particular way, can easily hijack our desire to see ourselves honestly and accurately. Often an individual assessment coupled with team and organizational assessments can be useful. The assessment below is neither broad in scope nor designed to provide quantitative data; its purpose is to provide an opportunity to pause and consider how you see the world -- a reflection on your worldview.
Questions that help us go deeper as we consider our own and the organization’s state of readiness for a changed world:
Personal – How easy or difficult is it for you to articulate a sense of organizational purpose in a way that provides clarity, passion, and urgency? How many people understand your purpose and why it matters to you?
Which values inform your worldview? When was the last time you spent time reflecting on their current importance and meaning in your life and in your current role as a leader?
When was the last time you felt genuine pride in the way your organization initiated an effort or responded to a challenge? What about this situation feeds your pride and helps shape your thinking and acting?
If you had a chance to write in 50 words or less on the outcome of your particular legacy, what would you say and why? Same question for your organization’s legacy.
Team – Does the team/board/committee share a common sense of the major challenges facing the organization? Are they able to agree on the top one or two and provide credible evidence on why these matter over all the others?
To what degree do they feel empowered to act?
How would you rate your team around its capacity to engage in real dialogue while maintaining a sense of cohesion?
Considering the attributes of a well-functioning team, which one is in short supply? What do you recommend to address this?
Organization - How well do the organizational veterans do in recognizing the customer/end user and in planning with them in mind? How well do organizational newcomers do?
How frequently do you hear the complaint that …”it’s hard to get things done around here”?
When was the last time you heard a story that included a clear and inspiring theme of cross organizational collaboration? How did that make you feel?
Change Readiness: From Assessment to Action
While change readiness takes many forms-- from personal coaching, to leadership development, to facilitated meetings --it all revolves around keeping a tight focus on creating tangible outcomes. The product of these activities is a demonstrated set of coordinated actions that create outcomes that matter.
An approach most likely to produce extraordinary results involves the coordination of a series of activities which may involve several sources. This paper describes the initial steps in a transformation process with particular emphasis on change readiness of the major stakeholders. Presumably other parties will assist in doing the necessary analysis and providing the business context and areas for action. The third step consists of bringing together the work done in the change readiness portion with the concrete data of marketing, operations, technology, and human capacity.
© Rob Hartz Consulting, July 2018