If you are charged with ensuring executive support for transformational change, how do you do it? The key, in my experience, is helping leaders to own the change. For significant changes, this often means you will have to start with a smaller base of support and then have a strategy to reach other leaders. It is important to know who falls into which category. You need a critical mass of executive support before embarking on a change, or it will flounder or fail.
First, see the change from the leader’s point of view. What does the change threaten, what does it enable? Will the leader understand this? Is the person likely to be initially supportive or resistant as a result? What, or who, can win the leader over? What influences the leader?
Although I cringe to say this since it invites a comparison I don’t love, this can be a bit like being car salesperson with only one model on the lot to sell. In addition, once you get the leaders to “buy in”…you will then turn around and ask them to sell, too!
Sell the change
For those leaders you think you can win over—or who simply must be supportive for success—start by talking about the change in a language they understand. Tell them what the “car” can do and why that’s good for the organization. Get rid of the buzzwords and talk in practical, simple terms about the intent of the change. Answer the critical question, “What’s in it for me?” What are the “options” that will be appealing?
Give leaders an opportunity to shape the change. For big changes to work across a complex organization, it’s almost always true that the initial plan misses some critical nuances. Appeal to leaders for help in getting key aspects of the change right; this builds toward authentic ownership.
Discuss the fine print and provide a service plan
Be realistic: acknowledge the difficulty of the change, the disruptiveness of the transition and the resistance that leaders will face from their staffs and their peers. Listen to what they say about the impact of the change on their organizations. What will they have to change about the way they work in order to make the transition successfully? You will have to partner with them to address these impacts.
Establish metrics for assessing change progress and effectiveness, as well as proposed alignment of incentive structures to support the change. Talk with leaders about these and what it takes to apply them in their organizations. Get feedback on whether the metrics are meaningful to them, or if they have other suggestions. What incentives—a balance of positive and negative—will help people understand the importance of the change and support it?
Develop leader sales plans
Give newly supportive leaders a script and a vocabulary for talking to their organizations, along with a simple, tailored change management toolkit that helps them do all of the above steps with their staffs. Be there as a partner to help them through each step. Work with them on communications and engagement planning; this is never one-size-fits all, and they can tell you what works in their organizations and for them personally. This is your opportunity to teach them the concepts of change management and help them to apply them in support of the change at hand.
As the change progresses and leaders see successes in their organizations, enlist them as evangelists to more resistant areas. Help them to translate the real business results they are seeing into language that is meaningful for these other areas. Also ensure that they and their staff are visibly recognized and rewarded—engage them in awards ceremonies.
Hand over the keys!
Once you have done a change program or two, you will have leaders who excel at driving change and are excited about the process—if you’ve done it right. Give these change leaders an opportunity to help other leaders new to the process; they may lend added credibility and trust to what you are trying to do.