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Essay

Leaders, Be Precise to Promote Change

Change can be tough. Most people don’t want to do it, for one thing. But when leaders ensure their instructions and path are clear, the process isn’t nearly as painful.

strategy, objectives, clarityLeaders operate in a very challenging and demanding world. Customers are demanding. They want more options, better service and lower prices. As a leader, senior management require you to get more done, faster, with fewer resources. Stockholders want bigger dividends and increases in stock value, and the competition keeps improving. They are doing everything they can to recruit your customers. Then, technological advances increase the pressure to keep learning and to stay up to date.

Today’s leaders must practice the R-words — reinvent, reimagine, reengineer and redesign. But implementing change is hard work. Countless change efforts are currently underway all over the world. Despite good intentions, many of these efforts will fail.

I have heard company presidents and senior leaders make statements like: “We need a values-driven culture; our sales reps need to be world-class;” or, “we need to change the culture to be more customer-focused.” And there is nothing wrong with general statements if they are followed by precise descriptions of the changes needed. But too often leaders simply espouse vague goals like: “world-class company,” “customer-focused,” “adding value” and “positive culture.” These phrases may sound exciting and hopeful, but without further clarification they are just empty words.

You need precise answers to some basic questions. Start by identifying the specific people who need to change. This is the target group. Be specific. For example, the target group might be 12 vice presidents, 45 middle managers or all employees in the customer support department.

Then, a secondary group needs to support the target group. For example, for a child to change his behavior, parents need to change some aspects of their behavior. In business, the secondary group are managers of the employees in the target group. They need to model the desired behavior, help and encourage people, as well as monitor/measure the new standards.

For many people, change can feel overwhelming. It sometimes feels like everything must be done differently. But that is generally not the case. It is important to determine what specifically needs to change. For example:

  • Middle managers need to spend 80 percent of their time asking questions and 20 percent giving directions.
  • First line managers need to review and discuss the new quality metrics at every weekly staff meeting.
  • Each vice president needs to reduce the number of policies and job descriptions in their department by 30 percent.

The leader’s goal is to ensure the people in the target and secondary groups are able and motivated to do what’s needed. Individuals’ ability to change depends on their knowledge, skills and resources. If people are unable to change, you need to determine what’s lacking. Some of the actions you can take to increase people’s abilities include:

  • Specific learning and development programs.
  • Coaching and mentoring.
  • Modeling the desired performance.
  • Providing job aids and a support group.
  • Upgrading equipment.

The motivation to change depends on a person’s desire, confidence and drive. If people are unmotivated or unwilling to change, find out why. Some people may be stuck in their comfort zone. Or, they may think the change is unnecessary or the plan won’t work. In many cases, people are consumed with other priorities and issues. Some employees may need to talk through issues that are holding them back.

There are actions you can take to increase employee’s motivation:

  • Provide incentives
  • Remind people of what’s in it for them
  • Affirm people’s talents; build confidence
  • Provide encouragement
  • Remove obstacles or resolve demotivating issues
  • Celebrate early successes

It takes time, effort and money to train and motivate people to change. Without adequate resources, the change effort will flounder and fail. You must be realistic when defining the resources needed, and you will need precise answers to some basic questions.

Change happens when the target and secondary groups are convinced change is needed, those groups understand specifically what they need to stop and start doing, and they are able and motivated to make the change.

Paul B. Thornton, author of “Precise Leaders Get Results,” is a trainer, speaker and professor of business administration at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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