Four Ways to Align Senior Leaders to Change

In my last post on change leadership, we explored why change is essential to organizations of all types. From government and not-for-profit agencies to successful retailers and other private sector business, change helps to ensure relevancy, sustainability, and in some cases, survival.

In this post, I share four practices that Level5 employs with respect to getting productive, constructive and successful change started and establishing momentum. You may need to apply only some of them or you may choose to apply them all, and the order in which you apply them may vary as you embark on your organization’s change journey.

1. To build alignment among senior leaders, begin at the end.

I know I just said you don’t need to apply all of these practices, but if you’re going to skip one, don’t let it be this one! In order for change to take place, you need all of those directing the change to be on the same page with respect to your organization’s goals. With this in mind, start by outlining what the ultimate end game looks and feels like.

At Level5, we often work with change catalysts on our C-suite / senior client teams to create a blueprint that helps facilitate the process of obtaining buy-in from others on the leadership team (I wrote about some of them in my previous post). This often takes the form of a multi-page story that we refer to as a narrative. This narrative is built by the change agent(s) in collaboration with their colleagues, and essentially outlines what they want to be when they grow up, so to speak.  The key is to ensure that everyone involved understands that this isn’t a strategic plan or a set specific deliverables, it is simply a story describing a future state and how it looks and feels.  This process really helps shake out otherwise unstated differences and helps ensure everyone is aligned to where the organization is heading.

2. Show your leadership team what change could look like by removing blinders.

Not everybody’s chomping at the bit to change. If you want to engage those who are resistant, you need to help them understand the why behind it. By showing them what great looks like in other organizations, both within and outside of your particular industry (take Nordstrom’s digital transition, for example) you can open them up to the possibility of shifting towards a greater future.

I’m not suggesting you copy others. I’m simply saying that education provides perspective. Sometimes even the best leaders think, hey, this works, so why change?They don’t think to look around for new possibilities. Take the blinders off and they may still refuse to shift, but at least they’ll be doing it from an eyes-wide-open perspective.

3. Subject your senior leaders to the canary in the coal mine.

In some instances, senior leaders have difficulty understanding the need for change because they simply can’t see the problem, even if it’s blatantly clear from the customer’s, employee’s or stakeholder’s point-of-view. So what do you do?

You need to get your leaders to experience the problem first-hand. For example, if it’s a purchasing issue, insist that they walk through the customer’s purchase process. That way, they’ll no longer be blind to the hiccups and they’ll be more likely to accept what needs to change before you reach the point of no return.

4. Grant permission for company-wide change and go for it!

Getting alignment to change at the top may be tricky but it’s doable (and frankly necessary). Once you have it, pay it forward. Grant permission to the next level of leadership and advise those leaders to do the same so that everyone within your organization is aligned and motivated.

Promote a change-positive environment, with some boundaries, granted, but not so many that people are afraid to think big. Sure, a single change agent can get the ball rolling but at the end of the day this requires organization-wide collaboration. Once people feel like they have permission to see the world differently, it’s amazing what new ideas are born.

Throughout all of these steps, diplomacy rules. Your job isn’t to beat people over the head until they are convinced; that just doesn’t work. The job of the change agent is to educate and help others see the light in their context while creating a shared understanding of the end game.

If you have a hard time presenting your case objectively, consider bringing in a third party to help steward things with you. At Level5, we often play the role of mediator/facilitator/catalyst supporter for this very reason, and help change agents get the buy-in they need to move forward. Contact us if you’d like to know more.

By: Efram Lebovits, Principal

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