3 Culture Leverage Points for Leading Change
Sailing in rapid-changing conditions requires different skills that smooth sailing in calm waters. We are in an era of global transformation, on a scale never seen before. Leveraging culture in any effort to lead change is essential.
Leading in times of uncertainty and change, many captains realize they must view themselves as more than agenda-setters or order-barkers. Organizations today need captains who see the bigger picture, who are decisive but expect collaboration across teams, and who embed a disciplined approach to change and innovation within their companies. These are the leaders who will pioneer a new era of transparency and collaboration – hallmarks of the next generation of leaders.
There are three key cultural leverage points leaders need to master in creating adaptive company cultures that can weather today’s “perfect storm” conditions:
1) Vision Alignment. Any change – a new job, a new team, a new strategy – begins with an urgent, passionate Vision within one person for something different. During uncertainty and ambiguity, that is Job One. However, the mature leader knows the real work is creating a groundswell among everyone in the organization to share that urgent, passionate desire (Vision) for change – why it’s important to the organization, what it looks like, how it will help us win in our market. Without passionate vision, not much moves. With it, marvelous things are created.
Leaders typically underestimate how much it takes to create full organizational alignment toward a Vision – with peers and with employees. When done poorly, chaos and confusion reign as projects cascade through the organization and compete for a shrinking pool of resources.
When done well, a palpable excitement can be felt about the possibilities. People’s energy and commitment grow, and the alignment produces bottom line results. Every time.
2) Committing to a Partnership between Leaders & Employees. Commitment comes from inside a person – it cannot be mandated. However, it can grow into a bonfire, from a spark.
Regardless of size, industry, or the type of change, the capability to adapt constantly, must become a shared responsibility between leaders and employees. This does not mean dumping projects onto overwhelmed managers or employees and it does not mean leaders must do it all.
Leaders have a specific role to play to create alignment, and help employees see and embrace their role. To elicit commitment in others, leaders must demonstrate their own commitment, visibly. This happens through frequent communications and encouragement. (eg, “Building Corporate Culture through Social Media” on Linked In.)
Not understanding what it means to sponsor change, many executives announce and fund initiatives, hand them off to project teams, and move onto the next initiative. This leaves key projects to taxi endlessly around pushback and resistance, never gaining liftoff. A mature change leader understands the importance of being a visible beacon and role model for change with their peers and with employees.
When leadership visibility, engagement, and active support is strong, new habits can be reinforced and rewarded, and old habits and patterns have a harder time resurfacing. And given leaders’ overcrowded schedules … this brings us to our final leverage point …
3) Do less, well. The most demoralizing situation in an organization is the sense of running in place and never getting ahead. This is a very common situation in today’s turbo-overload. The failure of leaders to adequately perform #1 or #2 above, is that more is being piled on people’s plates without removing anything. This results in burnout and disengagement.
The mature change leader knows their most difficult and important task is to relentlessly prioritize against a clear strategy – more conscious decisions about what NOT to do – i.e., to stop or eliminate a project or initiative. It’s better to decide what is taken off, rather than leaving it to chance or not having it aligned with where you are headed. When prioritization is an ongoing process, it’s easier to help employees support the changes that truly uplift the strategy.
These three leverage points are needed, now more than ever, in companies where leaders and employees are overwhelmed and struggling with balance on a day-to-day basis. Appropriate attention to these areas helps teams and organizations consistently adopt behaviors that help you adapt to changing market conditions and make your workplace a more enjoyable place to be.
For a free assessment tool that supports your culture when leading change, download our free Culture Toolkit Sampler.