Involve, Not Impose, for Successful Change

Involve, Not Impose, for Successful Change

Many leaders struggle with organizational change for one simple reason – they try to impose the change.

I think it happens because of the immense pressure on new leaders to add value. When new leaders arrive, they are expected to bring a new way of doing things. A new vision, or management style, or view of the market, or business process. SOMETHING that is a dramatic change from the way things were done before.

This expectation results in a tendency for new leaders to shy away from current employees. In the search for something new, it’s somewhat counter-intuitive to look for it among the old. These leaders formulate their ideas from outside of the organization. They don’t ask current employees how they might do things differently. And so when the change comes, employees feel that the change is being imposed upon them. When change is imposed, it is human nature to question and resist.

Organizational ChangeNew leaders are much more likely to succeed if they involve employees in the change process. Every reorg is unique, but here are some of the steps that I’ve taken to involve people during the reorg of the applications team at the State of Colorado:

  • Get feedback. My due diligence effort included over 100 interviews with senior executives, peers, directors, managers, staff, customers and vendors. I wanted every perspective on the current organization and every idea about the new organization. To organize my thinking, I used a standard SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). It was a time-consuming, but critical process that would later pay huge dividends.
  • Use the feedback. While every leader reserves the right to implement his/her own ideas, buy-in comes much more quickly when you’re implementing the ideas of your staff. In the meetings with staff where I shared my vision of the new org structure, I was careful to point out where I had used their feedback. I earned credibility not only by showing that I had heard what people were saying, but also by demonstrating a willingness to act upon what was said.
  • Encourage ongoing feedback. The greater the change, the greater the need for ongoing feedback. The State has 400 people supporting 800 applications spread across 17 agencies. Communication is a huge challenge. I’m working top-down in this reorg, hiring my senior managers first, who in turn are hiring their managers, who in turn are building their teams. Each hire is an opportunity to get and use feedback. My leadership team has already implemented several course corrections as a result of this feedback process.

Involvement doesn’t guarantee success, and there’s a lot more to a reorg than just involvement, but it’s a building block of change management that greatly improves the odds of success.

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