Forget It and Set It

Being a consultant, you won’t be surprised to hear that I am often involved in helping companies go through changes. One common aspect that I see, either as I’m working with my clients or when they tell me about their failed past attempts, is that the executives often hold a much too simplistic view on how changes should be done.

Ideally, everyone would like to be able to announce a change, like a new process, and move on—the team would immediately adapt and make sure that everything works smoothly, letting you know if there are any issues. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in most organizations. Once the initiative is handed off, it gets derailed, abandoned, or progresses much too slowly. Let’s unpack the issues that cause this to happen.

Losing Momentum

Change focus from your own perspective as an executive for a second, and consider what’s happening from one of your team members’ point of view. How would you feel if someone would swoop in, declare a new change, and then run along to do the next thing? As an executive, you might see this as delegating and empowering. However, it can be interpreted as capricious and merely passing a hot potato.

Even if your team initially started working on this in good faith, when the first setbacks are encountered they need something to help them push through. That’s harder to achieve when it seems like leadership is disinterested.

We’ve all seen caricatures that portray the differences between types of leaders: one yells “go and do this” from the side, while the other charges forward yelling “follow me!” Which one would you be more inclined to listen to?

This is even worse when the leaders are assigned tasks and don’t do them (or communicate that they have). Since you’re always modeling behavior for your people, they pick this up and deduct that this effort is just not that important.

Fixing Your Attitude

Here are some ground rules for effective changes:

  • Be accountable. If you have tasks on your plate, do them and do them on time. Otherwise, you cannot complain when others fail to do their part.
  • Be timely. It doesn’t matter that you’re higher up in the org chart. If you set a date, stick to it. Others will find great excuses as well if you let them.
  • Be transparent. When you make progress, it should be visible so everyone can see that you’re putting your money where your mouth is, spending your time on this as well.
  • Be involved. You don’t have to take the lead, but you should know what’s going on and show interest in the progress and decisions.
  • If you cannot participate, put your best people on it.

Yes, you might eventually be able to start some of these without being involved later, but you’re likely not there yet. At a later point, you’ll be able to assign a few champions to push a matter forward. Just not today.

Once you have gained enough trust by running successful changes like these, it will become easier. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.