Leadership “Drive Through Changes”

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--By Sujit Mundul

Change is all about critical mass. If one gets a critical mass of change leaders in the middle, there is a much better chance of leading a successful major change effort. It would be extremely difficult for an individual to do it alone – however, there are isolated examples of the dynamic CEO, during changes from the top; these are, nevertheless, few and far between.

It’s been observed globally that CEOs get far too much credit and far too much blame, for the results of transformational change. Nor is it enough to have a committed team at the top. What you need to have in the end is a critical mass of real change leaders throughout the organisation. 

In recent years, many Change Management Gurus have focused on soft issues, such as culture, leadership and more prominently motivation. Indeed such elements are important for success, but managing those aspects alone isn’t sufficient to implement transformational projects. Soft factors don’t directly influence the outcomes of many change programmes. For instance, visionary leadership is often vital for a transformation project, but not necessarily always. The same can be said about communication with employees. Moreover, it has been observed that it isn’t easy to change attitudes or relationships, developed over a period of time; they are deeply ingrained in the organisation and work force.

So, it would be very important to focus on the not-so-fashionable aspects of change management: the hard factors. These factors bear three distinct characteristics. First, companies should be able to measure them, in direct or indirect ways. Second, the company should be able to easily communicate their importance both internally and externally. Third, perhaps the most significant one, the businesses should be capable of influencing those elements quickly.

But now, how to proceed? The organisations would be left with the major challenge of implementing the concept and also the conclusions drawn from the empirical analysis of the business and the industry. The most important task for the Top Management would be to recognise the RCL (Real Change Leader) and how to develop a cadre of Real Change Leaders across the organisation at various levels.

Based on surveys conducted both in the developed western economies as well as the emerging countries of the east, the following basic topics emerged:
• The RCL Shortage
• The RCL mindset
• The RCL needs and expectations

It’s been found that the demand for change leaders already far exceeds the supply. It has also been argued that the continuing elimination of traditional middle management roles exacerbates this imbalance. The causes of the shortfall are obvious. Most organisations viz. (corporates, government institutions, private enterprises etc.) encounter what they consider a major change – lots of people in lots of places needing to acquire new sets of skills for improving individual and organisational performances. 

With the rapid change in pace of the global economic scenario, the timeframe to accomplish these changes is shortening. Such changes may not be continuous but they are certainly recurring. Traditional managers have little experience with these kinds of changes and their normal attitudes and skill sets make it difficult for them to adapt. This makes things worse for the top management; the desired changes can’t happen without Change Leaders in the middle management. However, the solution is obvious; obtain a critical mass of RCLs to fill the gap – but unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

While looking at the RCL mindset, the real change leaders in any organisation already recognise the bind you are in– and they want to help the process of transformation. Indeed they recognise that your role (you being the CEO, the leader of the organisation) is as critical to a successful change as is theirs – and in all likelihood, they would seek a realistic partnership with the Top Leader. Studies have revealed that the difficulty of major change is something they (RCLs) have experienced first-hand and their expectations reflect that experience. Unfortunately, there are some pretenders. 

Most budding Change Leaders recognise their shortcomings and honestly endeavour to build the skills and experience required. However, some continue to believe they have “Always done it this way” and are fully able to handle things in the same way they always managed. As the leader of the organisation, you, being the CEO, are required to give immediate attention to these change agents and direct their efforts towards the goal of achieving “The Real Change.”

In many cases, it has been observed that what real change leaders ultimately need and expect from the Top Management is probably unrealistic. They generally set high standards for themselves and their leaders. I strongly feel that identifying, developing and utilising the RCLs is the primary task of the Top Management, especially when the organisation is embarking on transformational change. The leader of the organisation has to be honest both in communication and behaviour so that the layers below him are well tuned with the kind of vision and feeling encouraged at the end of the day.

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