In this guest post, Daniel Lock, an expert ‘Change Management’ consultant tells us the seven deadly sins of change management. I’ve been helping my clients succeed in their change management and process improvement aspirations for some time now. Throughout my years of experience in this area – and my work with dozens of diverse clients – I’ve built up quite a mental database of the common pitfalls of change leaders. I’ve listed down some deadly mistakes of change leadership that help identify whether a business leader is strategic or not.
7 Deadly Sins of Change Leadership
- Navel gazing
- Placing short-term gain ahead of the long-term view
- Failing to question
- Ignoring internal strengths
- Failing to align colleagues and team members with strategy
- Looking at the now to predict the future
- Lack of flexibility
Leaders that fail to recognize the value of looking at a business, process, or product from the customer point of view will eventually lose those customers. Often a business executive will initiate change, but then become caught up in the day-to-day running of the business. There will be problems to solve, and issues to face down. Suddenly all focus is on the internal, and the external view goes out the window.
Two great innovators, generations apart, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, were both able to look from the outside. Jobs tested his ideas with customers, Ford knew what his customers would want (‘faster horses’ was his answer).
Unfortunately, success can also be the foundation of complacency, which then leads to failure. Ford knew his customers wanted better products but believed that everyone would want a black Model T. This ‘anchoring bias’ (where future decisions are made on prior experience) meant Ford slowly fell behind as other manufacturers continued to innovate.
If you want to be great inside, then look from the outside: start with your customers, identify and anticipate their needs, and then create a purposeful relationship with them.
2. Placing short-term gain ahead of the long-term view
Strategy is, by its very nature, a long game. The best change leaders are able to visualize the future, and show the desire and determination to see that future come clearly into focus. Many change leaders fall down by falling prey to short-term desires of markets or management.
In 2012, ExxonMobil was derided by the financial press for its second quarter results. What the market commentators failed to note was the investment Exxon was making in its future. It was pumping billions into ensuring its long-term health, and had made ‘only’ $8.4 billion. Shares fell to around $77. They now stand at $100.
Strategies take time to produce the goods. Exxon realised this, and so should you.
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3. Failing to question
Innovators and change leaders need to be averse to risk. Popular opinion has it that both are prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater in order to make a long term gain. That just isn’t true.
The best change leaders will question everything. They will think about the impact of change on customers and internal departments and individuals. They will look for the downside, and plan to avoid it.
Change leaders also question the current state and compare with the desired state. For example, Google wanted to be the world’s best search engine: a feat achieved. It was only when the company questioned its being, and realised it didn’t want to be the world’s best search engine, but rather it wanted to know everything that it then began to produce innovative projects like Google Earth, Google, Maps, and Google Labs.
4. Ignoring internal strengths
Successful companies will continue to be successful by continually improving. Companies that seek to change but ignore their current strengths do so at their peril.
Microsoft appears to be intent on turning itself into a hardware manufacturing company, building computers and tablets. Yet their skills lie in software. The PC market is declining, yet Microsoft fail to see their future lies in extending their software capabilities into server tools and big business markets where switching costs are huge.
Yes, change leaders must view the world from their customer viewpoint. Ignoring internal best practices is also a path best left untrodden.
Also Read: 6 Lessons in Changing Employee Behaviour
5. Failing to align colleagues and team members with strategy
For successful change to take place, a change leader must disseminate the strategy and its priorities to those lower down the chain. All initiatives and programs must focus on the objectives of meeting the strategic goal for Change Management. In other words, all efforts must be aligned with the strategy, and focus should be firmly on the long term strategic goals.
Telstra, an Australian Telecommunications giant, took the right approach when it wanted to produce a cultural change aimed at improving the customer experience. The CEO, David Thodey, put his leaders through a change leadership development program with the aim of improving customer service. The program’s aim was for “each business, each team, each group, to take the values and bring them to life and live them in the context of the work they are doing, to create the best experience that they can for the customer in that environment that they work in.”
6. Looking at the now to predict the future
A common change leadership sin to visualise the future from today’s base while developing strategy. You should focus on what you want the future to look like and then work back, rather than what you anticipate the future may hold by considering the current. Here are some quotes to show what I mean:
“This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
– Internal memo, Western Union, 1876
“Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”
– Lord Kelvin, Mathematician/Physicist, 1895
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
– Charles Duell, Commissioner US Patent Office, 1899
“Worldwide demand for cars will never exceed one million, primarily because of a limitation in the number of available chauffeurs.”
– Research prediction, Mercedes Benz, 1900
7. Lack of flexibility
While focussing on strategy and ultimate goals must be the overriding priority of change leadership, it is necessary also to remain flexible. Markets change through the course of time. Competitors come and go, and some may be so strong that you feel it better to avoid a collision course.
Nokia began life as a pulp mill. Coca Cola was a pharmaceutical goods manufacturer. Tiffany was a stationery retailer.
Beginning with a big idea is what will drive you, but as markets shift you may find you need to change course. Remain agile and flexible. Stay determined, remain focussed, and drive your people to bigger and better success.
Which of these seven deadly sins of change leadership do you suffer from, and what can you do to improve?
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