Well, it doesn’t take great leadership to maintain the status quo that much is for sure. I’ve had the chance work with a gentleman named Phil Hadley, who is the Chief Executive Officer of FactSet, a firm that provides investment research and systems. So if you have any investments in the stock market or you are working with a broker, odds are your broker uses some of their research and some of their services. At one point in our work together we were taking a break because he was going to address an audience of about 50 new hires at their headquarters. He had a good discussion with them as he addressed the future and the vision of the organization, and then he had his Q&A session. One insightful new hire asked him, “What is the most important part of your work?” Phil replied after a moment of pause, that it was all about leading change.
He started talking about the importance of being nimble and leading change effectively because as he said, “It is always about the next generation” and “the next double.” How would the company double in size? Their history was that they had doubled in size a couple of times and his point was to be seeking the change that would lead them to the next generation—and ostensibly the next double. As he made his point, he even told a funny story with a bunch of twenty-something’s in the room, expressing that the business was founded using Lotus 123 as one of the main tools for research support, and that most of them had only read about Lotus 123 in history books. Though it wasn’t’ that long ago, and I too remember the Lotus suite.
Some people will refer to leading change as being an agent of change. I don’t love that term as it sounds a little too James Bond-ish for me but you get the idea. There needs to be a leader, a model, a champion to be the advocate for change in an organization, if any change effort is to be successful, and it is vital to great leadership. Now, unfortunately most of the professional literature suggests that somewhere between two-thirds, even 75% of change initiatives fail to meet their stated objectives in an organization. So when I work with clients and identify those who manage change well and who are effective with leading change, they do these four things exceedingly well.
- They define the change. What are we going to do? Why are we doing it? And they are able to articulate that change message in a powerful and a compelling way and painting a picture of the outcomes to get there. Indra Nooyi the CEO of PepsiCo is a great example of this. They defined a huge change at PepsiCo. Remember, PepsiCo is an organization founded on soda and chips and a few years ago she led a strategic shift, stating that over 50% of their revenue would come from healthy products, products like Gatorade and Quaker Oats. Now that is a soda company but Wall Street has rewarded that change and here you see a real clear picture of defining change.
- The second issue is for leaders to manage the tension of change. There is an old saying that “everybody wants progress but nobody wants change.” The fact of the matter is that during change things can get tense and stressful. So look at Netflix today, and if you are a subscriber to Netflix (I am a customer of Netflix as are millions of others,) they have made some major changes in their strategy. As soon as they announced those changes there was quite the rebellion about what was happening and what was changing for people. So whether or not that strategy was the right strategy, Reed Hastings and the leaders at Netflix had to (and still have to,) do a lot to manage the tension of that change. We will see what actually happens but if you pay attention to their actions, some conciliatory and others not, you know they’re actively managing the tension.
- The third thing I see for leaders who successfully lead change – they stay committed to the outcomes of the change process. Now if you look back a couple decades to George Bush Sr., regardless of your political preferences, he made the notion of stay the course very powerful. Certainly coming off the success of the Reagan years (again regardless of your politics,) that notion of staying the course and staying committed to the outcomes of change became really powerful. While some of the tactics may change modestly, there is power in seeing through a course of action.
- Finally, the best leaders of change celebrate the success along the way. Getting from Point A to Point B is of course the objective in any change initiative, but celebrating the small successes along the way makes a huge difference. I have had the chance in the last six months to work with Lenovo (you know them as the manufacturer of the ThinkPad) and they are the number two PC manufacturer in the world and I believe they are well on their way to being number one. I was working with some of their leaders as part of a transformation effort, and what I noted with a lot of interest, was that they were taking time to reflect, to celebrate, and to refuel. Leaders of change find a way to add a good bit of celebration of the successes along the way.
So I would ask you a few questions. What are you doing to lead change? What are the things you do to bring about the “next generation,” as Phil Hadley, the CEO at FactSet would say, or the “next double?” Are you doing these four things in a way that is mindful with any kind of frequency? And if not, well that may be a change that you want to make.