Championing Change – A Culture of Alignment

sheep-lineRather than viewing change management as a series of periodic events in which a new program or initiative must be “rolled out,” consider fostering a culture of alignment.  In a culture of alignment, employees’ values, perspectives, and priorities are “aligned” with the overall strategic direction of the company or team.  Simply put from a management point of view, they “get it,” and are able to view the business from the company’s perspective (as well as their own).  They may not agree with every individual directive or initiative, but they trust their leaders and subsequently accept or even embrace decisions that are made, even those that are unpopular.  Change is viewed more as an evolutionary process than a series of periodic singular events.  When new initiatives are brought forward, team members feel more engaged in the evolutionary process and have a greater comfort level toward any potential impact.  Rather than becoming overwhelmed by fear and trepidation at something new, they maintain a viewpoint focused on the immediate opportunities and longer term benefits.

Now all this sounds well and good, but let’s be honest, there are times when initiatives presented from above are viewed as flawed, implausible, even unrealistic.  This creates a critical juncture for a leader and his or her team.  Failing to acknowledge obvious problems and blindly repeating scripted expectations undermines a leader’s credibility.  This is management, not leadership.  As I stated earlier, leaders must have the courage to appropriately challenge assumptions and question superiors.  On the other hand, organizations rightfully expect their managers to sometimes just tow the line and enthusiastically implement new initiatives.

In many cases, managers are afforded enough discretionary license to adapt the implementation of an initiative to align with the strength of the team and better respond to specific business needs.  In these situations, the emphasis is on the end objective rather than the means.  Reviewing the objectives with all team members and involving them in developing an action plan for implementation builds consensus and instills a sense of ownership.  People are far more likely to own a problem when they participate in designing the solution.

However, there are times when the mandate leaves no room for interpretation, or when the emphasis is on the means itself as well as the end objective.  Here, a team’s culture of alignment is truly put to the test and strong leadership becomes crucial.  Even in disagreement, a healthy, aligned team will embrace the solution together, but only with the leader’s support and assistance.  A leader doesn’t necessarily have to agree with the merits of every directive, but he absolutely must believe in and support the organization’s overall vision of success.  He must also believe in his team’s ability to accomplish the goals set forth, and champion their effort toward achieving the overall objective.

The point is, affecting change within any team or organization means altering the status quo in some way.  Teams with a strong culture of alignment are far less resistant to change because the idea of change itself is less threatening.  Let’s face it, most people dislike change.  There is some level of comfort even in the consistency of misery.  Teams that operate within a culture of alignment may never enthusiastically embrace the idea of change, but will nevertheless accept change as a systemic component of their ongoing growth and success.  These team members trust their leader and their values are fundamentally aligned with the general vision and mission of the organization.

Next Post:  Developing a Culture of Alignment

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Championing Change – The Parable of the Boiled Frog

boiling-frogAn experiment was conducted back in the late 19th century in which a frog was placed in very hot water.  Immediately sensing danger from the extreme heat, the frog jumped out to safety.  However, placing the frog in cool water and slowly raising the temperature resulted in the frog getting groggier and groggier, and finally boiling to death.

Nature programmed the frog to respond to sudden changes in his environment, not gradual changes.  Similarly, most people are instinctively resistant to change.  In fact, the problem is actually not so much resistance to change per se, but rather an inability or unwillingness to cope with change.  It is no wonder that so many of our initiatives struggle or fail to get off the ground.  We blame the employees, refer to the “old school” mentality, but the fact is that the fault lies with us, the leaders, for failing to cultivate a culture in which change is non-threatening.

As managers and leaders, we are responsible for championing and facilitating many types of change – product launches, marketing initiatives, sales strategies, policies, etc.  This means much more than simply adopting a positive attitude or being cheerleaders in morning staff meetings.  The fact is, leaders often fail their teams by relying solely on the acceptance of authority as the primary motivation for buy-in, with little or no thought given to the cultural complexion of the team and its individual members, or even previous responses to new initiatives or changes to organizational structure.   In the absence of a culture that tolerates change, let alone one that embraces it, we just keep tossing the same set of frogs into new pots of boiling water.

Next Post: Creating a Culture of Alignment