Managing change in an organization is a tricky process. Our culture and our working practices are often deeply embedded into our organizational DNA. We are all creatures of habit. We like what we like. We have a routine that we are comfortable with and we avoid change as it is uncomfortable. So when an organization is being restructured and the future plans are implemented, there will be a lot of resistance. Let’s look at some approaches for strategic change management and managing the resistance that comes with change.

Implementing new strategies, new directions, new objectives is introducing change, major change, into the organization. As such, it is essential to approach and manage that the implementation in a similar fashion to that adopted when any major changes are being made. Plan the implementation of the changes and execute as smoothly as possible, and then monitor and evaluated the implementation for progress and performance against the desired outcomes, objectives, that were the drivers of the change. The leader must ensure that all aspects of the changes, the new strategic plan, are managed effectively.

Strategic Change Management Styles

The leader is the change strategist, whose role is to lead, to champion the changes, to promote the vision, to keep the organization travelling in the chosen direction, and to ensure that all those involved in implementing the changes and the strategies, perform to the best of their ability. There are a range of leadership styles to draw on. Some would argue that certain changes need an autocratic, aggressive style of leadership, and, while there may be the need for an element of this approach, if used as a single style, it rarely results in a positive post-change environment. This is the flaw in this approach, for, after the changes have been implemented, and the strategies are in place, the managers, specialists, operational employees, and all contributing stakeholders, must work together in a harmonious, positive, manner to make the desired progress and achieve the objectives.

If the leadership style during the change has been harsh, unforgiving, and aggressive, it may take many months, even years, to re-establish a positive environment, a healthy, goals focused, teamwork driven culture. The only logical choice of leadership style in any major change is one that combines all the styles, but leans heavily to those which focus on a team approach. The leader adopts a flexible, responsive style, that is a blend of the consultative, participative, and democratic, leaving room for an occasional, sparing touch of the autocratic to be employed if absolutely necessary. This style will then be the foundation on which to build the new, changed organization.

Leading Strategic Change Management From the Top Down

Performance at the strategic, corporate level must be monitored by the leader. Changing strategic direction, no matter how thorough the preparation and planning, entails taking the organization into uncharted territory. The leader is the guide, the expert, the most high profile member of the team embarking on this journey, and must constantly be aware of how much progress is being made and, when required, able to adjust the pace of progress and degree of activity to ensure that progress is satisfactory. To be successful in this, the leader must carry out monitoring and evaluation activity regularly, requiring timely and accurate information with which to make the assessment. In turn, the senior management team must show that they are successfully cascading this review and evaluation process down into the operational activity areas. The leader must set evidence of achievement of this task as one of the performance appraisal criteria for the senior managers, and they, in turn, must apply this approach to the operational managers and teams, as discussed below.

The senior managers are the change implementers at the corporate level. Their role in implementing and managing the strategies and ensuring that the objectives are met is crucial. It is these managers that will lead and manage the operational managers and specialists, and monitoring performance and progress made. One of their roles will be to inform and manage the operational managers, and to appraise their performance. In all of these activities, the leader (s) must provide the senior managers with encouragement and the necessary support to carry out their work, but must also appraise their performance and demand improvements where necessary.

At the operational levels, the middle and functional managers must help make the changes and then achieving the objectives. This includes in hard areas of activity such as the achievement of targets, goals, deadlines, outcomes, objectives, in managing budgets, controlling costs, maintaining quality standards, producing goods or delivering services. It also includes the effective management of soft areas of activity such as in communications, coaching, training and development, managing resistance, and providing support for those negatively affected by the changes. The leader cannot manage at this level, but should regularly ask for evidence from the senior managers that the strategic objectives have been successfully translated into operational targets, deadlines, and goals, and that operational performance is satisfactory.

The Visible Leader

In all but the smallest organization, the leader will have little regular contact with the operational employees. However, that does not mean that the leader should not be known to them, or that their feelings should not be known by the leader. The role and style adopted by the leader should ensure that the operational employees are aware of the leader and of the style of leadership being adopted. This is achieved in part through the communication of the mission, or vision, or simply the strategic direction being taken by the organization, through the cascading down of the strategic plans, becoming visible as operational objectives, and by the visibility of the leader in channels such as newsletters, the corporate website, and local or national media.

Visibility by physical presence, for example in the leader visiting operational activity areas, could be helpful, but is not always possible and must always be carefully handled. The only realistic way for the leader to communicate the strategic plan and direction is through the operational managers, themselves responding to the messages from their more senior managers. However, the importance of the operational employees in helping to achieve the strategic objectives, through their performance at the operational activity level, cannot be overestimated. The leader must ensure that they receive the support, the training, the resources, the quality of management, that they need in order to achieve the operational objectives. Without success at this level, the strategies will fail.

Communicating Clearly is Key

Most organizations have several important external stakeholders. The leader must inform and liaise with these, as they are important to the success of the strategies. Shareholders must continue to support the changes, and the leader; lenders will need constant reassurance that their funds are being used wisely and repayments are not under threat; business partners will need reassurance of positive progress being made; suppliers will need reassurance that they will be paid; local authorities and other agencies will be required to provide services; the media will want to report on positive progress but will also watch for negative news to report; families of employees will need reassurance that their providers are not at risk; and customers will continue to demand that the products or services that they purchase will meet their needs. The leader must grasp, and respond to, all these demands.

The leader is, without doubt, the most important person in implementing a change of strategic direction. The analogy with the captain of a ship is apt. It is the responsibility of the captain (the leader) to ensure that the officers (the senior and middle managers), the engineers and mechanics (the specialists in finance, marketing, quality, etc), and the crew (the operational employees), are all working to the best of their abilities in maintaining all areas of the ship. With this under control, the leader can then focus on the primary role of maintaining the course that has been set and forecasting and taking corrective action against threats that may lie ahead.

Celebrate Successes – Big or Small

One aspect of managing change, relevant here in implementing a new strategic plan, or direction, is that of celebrating success. Mechanisms should be in place, at senior management, middle and operational management, and operational employee levels, to visibly reward success. Success here could mean many things, including: achieving important milestones or targets; overcoming resistance to change; removing barriers; settling conflict; taking opportunity; defending against threats; removing or reducing weaknesses; making unexpected improvements; raising quality standards; improving the plan. Morale and motivation will be raised significantly if success is rewarded. The leader should ensure that the reward for success is a high profile aspect of how change is managed.

In leading the strategic activity that is required to implement the strategic plan, to change the strategic direction of the organization, the leader is managing, leading, a major change. Most of the change activity will, by necessity, be technically, operationally, managed by others. With this in mind, the leader must focus on ensuring that the organization is following the direction laid down in the strategic plan, while at the same time managing those who are operationally implementing the plan. It is a dual role that requires great skill and a high level of effort and energy. Effective leaders will have prepared for this by equipping the organization with appropriate physical, financial, and human resources, and by equipping themselves with the necessary knowledge and understanding of strategic change management. With these in place, the leader will be successful in managing the change and the strategic objectives will be achieved.

Going Forward

Creating a roadmap for your company’s future success is no easy task. There are many moving parts and different stakeholders to consider. Some may have their own vision for the future while others may have their own agenda. This can make it difficult to decide which initiatives to pursue and how to go about them. This is where an outside coach or consultant, someone with no agenda other than your success, is critical. An executive coach can help you and your team to make the right decisions at the right time and align your organization to achieve its goals.

If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me contact me today for a complementary Strategy Session: Leadership Strategy Session

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