Ahead of change or behind the times?

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As chief executive officer, you are the starter of change—and the stopper of change. Nothing significant in your organization happens that you don’t allow, including atrophy. Failure with change is easy. Leading change is hard. Leading change that works is harder still. Smart CEOs, as chief change agent, stay ahead of change to set the path that achieves the intended results.

Since 2009, the U.S. has seen unprecedented releases of CEOs who were held accountable for failures with change inside their organizations—either by omission or commission. Why does change cause so many failures?

Easy Failures with Change  

Easy Failure #1—Bad Decisions. The CEO who allows the organization to make flawed strategic decisions destines failure from the get-go. Too easily, CEOs get sidetracked by complacency, pet projects, executive ego, managing for outside opinions, or following an unanalyzed industry trend.

Easy Failure #2—Poor Leadership. If half of organizational changes fail due to bad decisions of WHAT to change, then the other half of failures are caused by HOW the changes were executed. A bad change process or bad timing will ruin even good decisions.

Easy Failure #3—Unclear Results. When the CEO hasn’t made clear where the organization needs to go, any path managers and employees choose will get them there.

Easy Failure #4—Unengaged Workforce. Micro-management is the fastest way to kill employee engagement. When a CEO or top executive over-directs the organizational change, participation of other levels of employees is quickly squashed.

Easy Failure #5—Invisible CEO. Under-involvement of the CEO and top leaders is equally as damaging as over-involvement. Low CEO commitment or visible support throughout the change effort is taken as a sure sign that the change is not important and no one is watching.

CEOs who are ahead of change know how to avoid these failures. Staying ahead of change is the make-or-break skill for CEOs in the next decade. Here is a proven strategy for top executives to ensure their organization gets the desired results from their change efforts, while gaining the involvement and commitment of their workforce talent throughout. Use these five key actions to guide your strategy for change:

CEO Change Action #1: Determine the strategic change that’s time has come—the next big thing.

CEOs ahead of change are pushed by urgency while pulled by the future. To make the right decisions at the right time, decisively, CEOs must consider:

  • Information—get the right people in the room
  • Strategic thinking—focus on the big picture at this stage
  • Risks and opportunities—noodle multiple scenarios
  • Unfulfilled customer needs—identify expressed and potential needs
  • Leadership courage—have the hutzpah to think differently

CEO Change Action #2: Ensure excellent execution with the right leaders, planning, resources and accountability.

If choosing the right changes is critical, “how we’re going to get there” becomes equally important.  CEOs who are smart about change know the importance of PPRA:

  • People—change leaders have the right competence, connections, and challenge
  • Planning—change planning builds in actions, timing and communication
  • Resources—success with the change requires adequate funding, technology, and staffing
  • Accountability—all levels need collaboration, stamina for the change, results

CEO Change Action #3: Define high aspirations—make clear the specific targets and desired results.

The CEO ahead of change breaks the strategies into understandable challenges, then clarifies the targets for results so everyone can grasp them. Key success indicators for the change will represent a balance of targets:

  • Financial measures
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Operational efficiencies
  • Employee satisfaction

CEO Change Action #4: Require an engaging workforce change process—use or hire an experienced change agent/strategist.

Top CEOs know that, above all, successful organizational change is a people process. They know too much is at stake to leave the workforce change process to amateurs. The many variables involved require a facilitator experienced in workforce change. If you have that experience inside, great—assign them full-time to lead the change process. If you don’t or can’t do that, you need outside experience (an independent consultant) to lead the workforce process.

Factors to consider when hiring a change consultant to organize and coach VPs through the change process are:

  • Does your organization have a poor track record with communication?
  • Is there rivalry in the mid- and senior- management level?
  • Are you dealing with entrenched mindsets and temperamental employees?
  • Are there some persistent performance problems in the workforce and teamwork inconsistent?
  • Are multiple types of change being introduced at the same time?

CEO Change Action #5: Stay highly engaged—personally and visibly.

“Inspect what you expect” holds true here. The CEO’s personal presence alone makes the change not only important, but mandatory if his/her message is consistently delivered at grassroots and all levels.

What can CEOs do to be “highly engaged” to impact successful change?

  • Tell the compelling “change story” at every opportunity
  • Establish clear executive sponsorship (if it’s not You, then Who?)
  • Recognize short-term wins and celebrate successes
  • Personally role model desired changes and mobilize senior team to do so
  • Provide incentives for reaching high targets of performance
  • Listen to employees in focus groups to get their perspective
  • Check progress with change leaders frequently
  • Hold people accountable for results

CEO—Chief Change Agent 

Truth is, bad leaders have given change a bad name in most organizations. Using the five actions outlined above, you can develop your own strategy for change as the Chief Change Agent in your organization. You will be able to lead people to reduce the chaos, confusion, and cynicism that too often accompany, abort, or annihilate change. Fulfill your powerful change role: jumpstart your organization to success rather than doom it to failure. When you set in motion a strategy for change that accelerates involvement and commitment of the workforce, you gain the satisfaction of seeing the organization accomplish successful results on top of producing delighted customers and motivated employees. Isn’t that what we’re all here for?

Charlyne Meinhard is a speaker, trainer and Chief Results Officer of Next Level Consulting, a consulting firm specializing in change leadership, talent development and innovation. She is also the author of "Change Agents to the Rescue!" and "Ahead of Change." For more information, visit http://www.nextlevelforyou.com/, email Charlyne@NextLevelForYou.com or call 804-382-5054.

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