Leadership Capacity & Stakeholder Commitment to Implement Change

In a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in March 2013 of 587 senior executives globally, 88% say executing strategic initiatives successfully will be “essential” or “very important” for their organisations’ competitiveness over the next three years. However, 61% acknowledge that their firms often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation. Only 56% say that their strategic initiatives have been successful.

The study also identified the barriers towards successful strategy implementation and included the following:

  • Lack of skills particularly change management skills and project management skills

  • Initiatives are poorly resourced

  • Poor communication of overall strategy

  • Poor communication surrounding initiative/project

  • Lack of executive sponsorship and support

  • Strategy occurs in a vacuum with little effort to implement it practically

  • Initiatives to implement strategy are poorly thought out/designed

  • Strategy is not well thought out in the first place

  • Projects to implement strategy are not aligned to the organisation’s strategy

In another study in 2013 by Towers Watson in their Change and Communication ROI Survey, it was found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term. The key findings of the study that involved 276 large and midsize organisations from North America, Europe and Asia are:

  • Employers felt 55% of change management initiatives met initial objectives, but only 25% felt gains were sustained over time.

  • 87% of respondents trained their managers to “manage change,” but only (a dismal) 22% felt the training was actually effective.

  • 68% of senior managers said they’re “getting the message” about reasons for major organisational changes, but that figure falls to 53% for middle managers and 40% for front-line supervisors.

To ensure better implementation of strategy and the organisation’s initiatives, leadership should consider the following:

  1. Set a clear vision of the change and determine the desired outcomes: Determine a strong case for change to ensure that the rationale can be clearly communicated and sets the stage for the call to action; identify the implications of inaction; set appropriate goals and targets so that stakeholders are clear of how the desired outcomes can be measured.

  2. Determine the initiatives/projects to achieve the desired outcomes: Clear line of sight of the outcomes of the initiatives/projects to the overall goals and targets ensures alignment to the overall vision of change. All too often, it is assumed that once the direction is determined, the management team at the next level can be left to determine the plans independently. What often results are independent plans which may not be aligned to the overall strategy. Alignment, as a team, of how the project outcomes deliver the overall outcomes is critical. This requires much dialogue amongst the management and clarity of how various initiatives/project may support each other.

  3. Assign clear accountabilities and resources allocated for the initiatives/projects as well as monitor the plans: The overall plan should be regularly monitored to ensure that challenges encountered will be addressed at the highest level and adequate resources (financial and manpower) can be allocated appropriately.

  4. Identify key skills required to execute the initiatives/project: Ensure that key personnel identified not only have the appropriate functional knowledge and skills to execute the initiatives/projects. Critical skill sets of the managers involved in implementing the initiatives/projects include project management and change management skills. Where new competencies are required, consider identifying training opportunities or acquiring through hiring or engaging external facilitators. Whilst project management skills equips managers with skillsets to manage timelines and the rational aspects of the change implementation, it is change management skills which enables managers to address the emotional aspects of the change implementation and ultimately the success of the change implementation. What are change management skills? Some critical skills include the following: - Active listening – the ability to demonstrate that you are willing to understand and welcome considerations and emotions. - Ability to hold tough conversations – the ability to convey the messages empathetically; in most difficult conversations, it is not the words that matter but the emotions you convey. - Ability to build trust and minimise mistrust – to instil trust managers must be credible roles models and what is said and acted on must concur. Communicating in a genuine and authentic manner is critical in building trust throughout the change implementation process. Building trust and confidence is also about demonstrating empathy by respecting the well-being of others. - Ability to handle conflict – as a leader, you may be forced to make choices which could give rise to various dilemmas which are accentuated during major changes. The ability to be focussed on the core objective and look beyond individual special interests will be important to ride the wave of change. - Ability to dialogue and create mutual understanding – as part of the ongoing change process, the ability to dialogue to maintain an open and neutral environment to enable others to express themselves without fear enables leaders to create mutual understanding and build trust. Feedback and dialogues are what creates long-term success in change processes.

  5. Personal communication and engagement of stakeholders by leaders: Nothing beats information from “the horse’s mouth”. Clarity of the vision of change directly from the leadership team provides opportunities for clarification and understanding and potentially avoids messages being distorted or misinterpreted. Design of the engagement platforms to suit the target audiences to ensure the messages are clear and staff have the opportunities to clarify is important. In many organisations, large scale session like town-halls or CEO briefings are conducted. Although these are good, they may not be conducive for dialogue. Leaders should consider following up with smaller group engagement sessions with targeted groups. Consider a variety of media and higher frequency of communications e.g. direct messages through short internal blogs or email messages from the CEO, breakfast or tea sessions, video messages to appeal to the various target audiences. To plan the communications strategy appropriate for your organisation consider the following: I. Identify your target audience II. Determine the objective of the communications and key messages III. Determine the communication approach that is appropriate for the audience; consider various options to deliver the objectives and key messages (large group or small group, formal or informal, face-to-face or electronic or hardcopy) IV. Choose the most appropriate media for communication. Examples of media may include large scale communication town-halls, small group breakfast sessions, tea sessions, small group facilitated engagement, video messages, direct emails or personal blogs, circulars, memos etc.

  6. Engage stakeholders through dialogues early and frequently: Create dialogues with stakeholders early to gather input as part of the solution implementation as well as to correct misperceptions or rumours. When communication happens only as part of the implementation process, the common feeling is they do not have a voice or say and that their concerns may not have been taken into consideration. This could lead to lesser buy-in to the solution implementation. Another consideration is to engage stakeholders frequently through the entire change implementation to increase buy-in and gather continuous feedback. The respective project owners driving the change can address any concerns or possible resistance to the implementation and refine or develop actions to mitigate any resistance to change. This type of frequent engagement also provides opportunities to progressively provide “bite size” information so that there is less information overload which can create confusion. It also allows the team to reinforce key messages throughout the process. The adage that you can’t communicate enough is especially true when communicating change.

  7. Consider building a ‘Team of Champions’ to bring the message to the ground: To ensure that the change initiative/project is well communicated, identify a group of Champions to assist in the engagement and communication of details of the initiatives/projects. The role of these Champions is two-fold – to not only to communicate but to gather feedback so that the project teams can address any project implementation challenges. Selection of these individuals is critical and various criteria can be determined so that the right candidates for the role are identified. Examples of criteria may include: I. Highly respected and trusted by others. II. Ability to connect and engage with people.

To enable these champions to execute their roles, consider equipping them with various skillset