In the twenty years I’ve been involved in change management and team coaching, I’ve seen great transformation successes and dismal failures. Almost anyone in the change business has seen them, and they depend on a variety of factors. I always took time to analyze and process what I saw, and the exercise has brought me some useful insights.
I focus a great deal on leadership teams and how they approach certain goals, including business transformation and change programs. For a critical change program to be launched, the sponsoring executive needs not only a well-placed leadership team (role and visibility in the company), but also needs clarity on their capabilities, understanding and alignment around the change.
A change leadership team often comprises VP or director-level leaders who oversee functions and key corporate processes. At this driver level, one can expect to see deep skill and deep experience, but it’s not always in the area of leading change. Furthermore, the very human trait of overconfidence can act to mask important gaps in what I refer to as the Optimal Change Leader Profile, which will be the subject of a separate blog entry.
The link between Change Sponsor and Change Management Team
I’m focusing here on that link between a motivated change sponsor and her or his team of drivers. It can easily be taken for granted that functional leaders know how to manage change. So how can a sponsor, who has invested budget, time, effort and credibility into the change, be assured that the team is capable?
There are four big lessons in leading change teams that I’ve derived from my experience.
Big Lesson 1: Uncover any gaps in the change team’s understanding and alignment around the change.
If the change leaders themselves cannot demonstrate knowledge depth, how can they demand it from – and model it for – their change teams?
A Change Program Office in charge of the effort, or some sort of centralized change team, will have (should have) already established a set of criteria for effective change championship among middle managers. These criteria can be generalized upward a notch for use at the senior leader level. They include things like level of fluency in the change methodology being used, ability to spot and deal with resistance, and ability to communicate convincingly with stakeholders about change in a realistic way.
To gauge change leader understanding, ask these questions:
- Can my leaders clearly relate what the reason and benefit of the change program are, with enthusiasm?
- Can they describe the change approach being used, not just a high level, but with examples that make sense to employees at the line level? And can they explain why it works?
- Can they share major milestones in the plan?
- Can they name key risks in the plan?
- Can they clearly describe the desired future state, again at a level that line folks will relate to?
Each leader should be able to answer these to the satisfaction of the key sponsor and the change program office.
Stay tuned for my next blog about Leadership Teams and Change – Big Lesson 2: Resources.
About Alexander Kosnik of Onward Executive Coaching LLC: Alexander Kosnik is the Principal and Founder of Onward Executive Coaching, a coaching practice dedicated to supporting leaders and their teams with career, growth and development, and change management-related initiatives. He brings twenty years of experience with leaders and change in five continents. Visit OnwardExecutiveCoaching.com for more information.