Five Actionable Steps to Move Leaders to Alignment During Transformation
We’ve all seen the grim statistics – many major organizational transformations fail to return as expected to the business, and many of them fail to produce any significant change in products, processes, ways of working, market presence, or financial growth.
This happens despite the best plans and intentions from senior leaders and change management consultants that so often miss Leadership Alignment as a crucial transformation lever. We believe the focus on changing others without also making sure senior leaders align and transform themselves is misplaced.
Transformation takes hard work. We want leaders to do the RIGHT hard work, starting with themselves first and then working to change others.
It requires that the most senior leaders go first; changing themselves before they work to change others. Kouzes and Posner called it ‘modeling the way’ in their best seller The Leadership Challenge, and it is absolutely required if a transformation is going to meet its goals. Too often, we have allowed senior leaders to avoid confronting and changing their own mindsets and behaviors. We let them focus on environmental changes like re-working the org chart, or re-engineering processes, or getting their teams to change without tackling the amplified impact senior leaders have through the model they set.
Helping leaders to visibly move from Agreement to Alignment during times of transformation is vital. They need to do more than nod in agreement and support others in changing – they need to change themselves.
If you are transforming your business, your leaders need to transform as well. And so do you.
Leaders must have the courage to:
1. Learn new things
2. Let go of ways of working that made them successful in the past
3. Create visible alignment to a new strategy, direction, or purpose.
Through our work at Karrikins Group we help leaders to actively and visibly move from Agreement to Alignment. As we’ve worked across industries with companies of all sizes, we’ve found a handful of tangible, actionable steps you can take to help senior leaders move from Agreement to Alignment.
Five in particular consistently rise to the top at organizations where leaders take on the hard work and move to alignment individually and as a leadership team.
Co-Create Clarity – Collectively, create a list of the major decisions leaders make every day that might be impacted by the transformation. Then, have your leaders clarify specifically how these decisions might be different in the future. Ask them to be incredibly clear and succinct when creating this list. For example, if you are moving to a more sustainable production process, long term supplier relationships may need to be researched and reconsidered. How will that get done?
Acknowledge Tensions – Become aware of the tensions in the system that will hold leaders back and create challenges to making aligned decisions. Tensions are natural, and they never go away. The goal is not to resolve them. Instead, focus on recognizing when and where they are influencing decisions that are being made. A common tension is short-term results and long-term investments. Leaders might need more people who know the current platform to meet quarterly obligations and need to invest in up-skilling people for the desired future
Curate and Create Stories – Encourage leaders to spend time curating their own stories to help people understand how aligned decisions are being made. Leaders often feel like their main communication responsibility is forwarding along content that others have written about the transformation. But that type of leadership communication is insufficient during major transformations – it should be considered the first step, not the last. Leaders must learn to share their thinking with others and make it visible by telling the story of how they arrive at decisions that are aligned with the new direction. Speaking from the heart and talking through how they navigate tensions and personal preferences that are challenged by the new direction will make it real to people. This creates the groundswell that is needed across the organization as others start to model their thinking processes and ways of working.
Foster Accountability – Provide an Accountability Coach for individuals and teams. Accountability Coaches can work with leaders and their teams to set the conditions for alignment and help them to stay accountable to the new direction. It is very difficult to see habits, behaviors, and default settings that teams have settled on over the years. Having and outside eye on things can help make these visible and create safe and clear paths to change.
Encourage Transparency – Create processes that promote transparency across the most senior team. Transparency and accountability processes are less about status reports and more about comparing individual notes, sharing challenges, and being honest about how and why decisions are being made. Senior leaders, especially P&L owners, often work autonomously within their own budgets, and sharing information and insight with their colleagues might not be a natural practice. Building a new kind of sharing across the senior team will help drive transparency, create a sense of connection, and ultimately move the organization towards accelerated impact.
Moving from Agreement to Alignment means changing deeply embedded habits, recasting stories, and shifting your identity as a leader to drive collective outcomes. It is harder than it seems on the surface, and leaders who have the courage to go first and take on the challenge of alignment will accelerate success. These five steps will ease the path to alignment for your leaders and help you and others to unlock the tremendous potential of your transforming organization.