Five ways to lead through the human struggle of change in large-scale transformations

Five ways to lead through the human struggle of change in large-scale transformations

Today’s leading companies exist in a perpetual state of business transformation. While change has always been a factor in business, the pace of large-scale change is accelerating radically.

At a recent business roundtable, we convened 20 senior executives across various industries to explore this topic. We heard unanimous agreement that their experiences with enterprise-wide change efforts—like M&A integration, divestitures, and digital system upgrades—are increasing in frequency and creating ongoing implementation challenges. In fact, several participants noted that they’re embarking on the largest and most complex corporate transformations they’ve managed in their entire careers.

These executives, and others like them who must lead through change, are proactively looking to help their organizations thrive in this new environment.

Whether assessing current or future transformation plans, we encourage today’s leaders to consider these proven approaches highlighted during our roundtable discussion:

  1. Drive cross-functional alignment with a transformation management office (TMO). Successful execution of urgent change initiatives requires executives across functions to align around common goals, trust and value each other’s expertise, promote one another’s priorities, and share (rather than compete for) resources. A well-structured TMO or guiding coalition can make this all happen, creating a ripple effect for real collaboration and change at all levels. It’s important to note that accepting and embracing an enterprise-wide mindset isn’t easy. For many in the TMO, it often evolves over time.
  2. Build trust and restore energy with face-to-face experiences for frontline workers. Humanizing the employee experience during significant business transformations is essential. It goes a long way when leaders communicate the impact in a face-to-face setting, so ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for 1:1 dialogue with your frontline workers and enlist them to share their stories, ask questions, and provide feedback. Forging trusted, collaborative relationships matters now more than ever.
  3. Report progress on your case for change story. Exceptional corporate stories are crucial when managing change. They touch emotions, build beliefs, and inspire employees to think and behave differently. After building and cascading a corporate story with an optimistic tone, authenticity, pride for the past, and confidence in a shared future, report on progress with regular communications. According to McKinsey, companies whose senior management communicated openly and across the organization about the transformation were eight times more likely to succeed than companies whose management didn’t.
  1. Develop leaders’ capabilities to guide employees through the change journey. Helping employees maintain a positive outlook while they’re in a state of flux requires change leadership expertise. This is a leader’s ability not only to tell the company’s change story authentically and transparently, but also to listen and model desired behaviors. Importantly, leaders need to be comfortable interacting personally with employees even when they don’t have all the answers.
  1. Know your organization’s health. Metrics can be powerful symbols of what’s important and reinforce progress connecting behaviors to business results. During major transformation efforts, it’s critical to identify reliable organizational health metrics quickly and get a baseline of what people are feeling. Regular (e.g., every six months) pulse surveys can assess if employees and leaders alike are willing to change.

Organizations that implement these transformation best practices will be better positioned to lead in their industries and to overcome cynicism and fatigue in the workforce. To learn more, join our founder and CEO, Maril MacDonald, and other business leaders who are passionate about driving organizational change, at The Conference Board’s 16th Annual Change and Transformation Conference on June 14–15 in New York City.

As the demands on today’s change-makers evolve at a rapid rate, being on the forefront of change management best practices is vital. We are also pleased to announce that Gagen senior consultant Hillary Goodman has been appointed to The Conference Board Change and Transformation Council, in recognition of Gagen MacDonald’s expertise with clients undergoing large-scale transformation.