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Change Management: Some Things Can’t Be Delegated

By Dave Berube, Life Cycle Institute
As appeared in Learning to Change

As leaders move into positions of increasing responsibility, they learn to delegate more projects and tasks to others. Out of necessity they move beyond the “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” mentality and realize that by enabling employees to excel and succeed, leaders will excel and succeed. 

When faced with a major change initiative that will result in transformation within the company, leaders establish a project management group to handle the project. Tasks are subsequently divided and delegated. Resources are allocated and a utilization plan created. So what is the problem? Some things just can’t be delegated.

Communicating the Vision

Creating a compelling vision for the future is one of a business leader’s most important responsibilities. All business activities must be aligned with this future state vision to achieve the organization’s goals.

The transition from the current state to the future state often requires people to change the way they are doing their job. This is where communication of the vision, the necessary change initiatives, and the reason behind them is critical. This highly important task is often delegated to Human Resources or the project team. While these people may seem to be very capable of handling these activities, the voice of the business leader has proven to be the most effective. Communication of the vision must come from the person who has the ability to make critical decisions about the activities necessary to support changing the organization. This person is often referred to as the executive sponsor.  The communication of the vision by the executive sponsor creates relevance to those involved with, and affected by, the change. One of the basics of good communication is matching the sender of the communication with the message and with the audience.

To be successful, complex changes must be positioned as strategic business initiatives. The voice of a surrogate is inadequate for this occasion. The executive sponsor is the only person who can verbally position the change as a strategic business initiative. This communication will clearly state the direction, create alignment, and spark motivation within the organization.

Creating the Change Strategy

Another mistake is delegating the creation of the overall change strategy to junior project managers. Major change is extremely complex and the involvement of executive level leadership is a must. Such changes can have significant impact on customers, business processes and employees. These effects on the business must be evaluated and balanced by a person in a leadership position. The executive sponsor identifies the change as a strategic business initiative and properly aligns the change efforts with the organization’s priorities. These are strategic planning duties that cannot be delegated.

Having ownership of the strategy does not mean leaders should micromanage the change effort. Selecting the most qualified leaders and change managers to manage the change is a key success factor. Change initiatives are too often populated with team members who could be “spared” instead of ensuring that the best resources are available to make the change a reality.

Visibility

Leaders at all levels underestimate the level of influence that they possess. Their mere presence can inspire and motivate people. Active involvement of leaders is a critical success factor which I believe cannot be delegated. Many activities require leadership visibility such as kicking off special events (i.e. training sessions, celebrations and ribbon cuttings), project status meetings, town meetings, and critical decision-making milestones within steering committee meetings.

When working with clients, I vigorously coach executive sponsors on how to remain active and visible. One recommendation is for them to visit project teams throughout the project. The injection of enthusiasm from a well-executed team visit is immediately visible and reaps great rewards with the team in the form of motivation and quality of output. In all six  Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking studies(1998-2009) conducted by Prosci, active and visible executive sponsorship was listed as the number one greatest contributor to success in managing change.

Coalition Building

When implementing a complex change initiative, there is strength in numbers. Even individuals with the greatest amount of credibility are often unsuccessful in driving change by themselves. Leaders must gather the support of other key individuals who are well-respected and credible. The term often used is “coalition building”. It’s important for leaders to sponsor the change in all directions – not only downward to their subordinates, but also sideways to their peers as well as upwards to the highest levels of the organization. A strong coalition can successfully adopt and implement new ideas. The phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” applies to building coalitions to support change.

Ownership

Although you would think it is obvious, the top leader must take “ownership” of the change initiative. Assigning responsibilities to project managers, change managers and project teams does not remove this ownership. The sponsor’s actions as an owner will demonstrate commitment to the vision and the change and will evoke equal commitment from all people involved. Clear ownership ensures that priorities are clarified and obstacles are removed.

Creating a change-competent culture and achieving buy-in for change initiatives is not a one-time event. It requires on-going leadership to build teamwork, trust and partnerships. The big difference between companies that successfully change and those that don’t lies not only in the long list of ideas available, but in the level of true partnerships that exist in achieving a common vision and attaining goals. This is achieved by taking ownership. Ownership is leadership.

Summary   

Active and visible leadership is a critical success factor in all organizations and even more so in organizations undergoing complex change. Leaders must lead and inspire their people, communicate the vision and constantly link vision to strategy to actions. Creating transformational change within an organization is all about people. We do not change people; people change themselves. In essence, real change occurs from the inside out. You can neit her delegate nor “command and control” your way through a major transformation. People must be led!

Dave Berube, a Principal Consultant for Life Cycle Engineering (LCE), has more than 29 years of experience in leadership and management within the maintenance, reliability and operations realm. His expertise includes change management, project development and management, and business process re-engineering. You can reach Dave at dberube@LCE.com.

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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