Sunday, February 12, 2006

Leading Large-Scale Change

Jonathan Byrnes writes another great piece on managing change for HBS: Working Knowledge. Leading Large-Scale Change is particularly relevant for me in my new role.

As I previously mentioned, I joined a telecom company as a National Strategic Sales and Marketing Manager. I have responsibilities for four National "regions", each with call center, repair, collections, etc groups. I belong to a group that has strategic oversight over all the regions. I have several responsibilities but most of them roll up to changing the way we do business. In order to survive we must make the change from being "just the phone company" to becoming a full-service, total telecommunications provider. We want to be in every channel you use to communicate. Phone, tv, wireless, voip, and the list goes on.

When a company experiences a widening gap between what worked in the past and what is needed in the future, its market share declines, and sooner or later its financial performance degrades as well. The natural reaction is to work harder at doing the things that brought success in the past. Unfortunately, this usually does not help, and the organization gets increasingly dispirited.
Luckily, our leadership team IS searching for new ways to do things. It is not business as usual. We have a long road ahead of us. The first step, according to Byrnes, is for top management to convince the managers underneath them that the changes are going to allow the company to prosper over the long run. Byrnes uses a great choice of words here: change must be explicit.

Explicit. Not flavor of the month. Change must be dramatic.

For large-scale renewing change to be successful, it has to be comprehensive and bold. Managers will resist the change unless they see that it will make a major difference in the company's prospects. Unless the change is large enough, the managers will backslide.
Top management must be "relentless and unwavering" in leading and communicating the change process. They must constantly paint the picture of the end-state, or as Byrnes calls it: "what success looks like".

Don't misunderstand dramatic change though. You can implement big, bold change and still do it in incremental steps. He uses the example of climbing a mountain. You can use base-camps to phase in the adjustment period, break off manageable chunks and realign as you go. He makes a great point:

In most change situations, as in many ascents, the best specific ascent route will not be clear until the next base camp is reached.
I'll have more on Byrnes' thoughts on leading change. He has written a few articles on the subject. Since it is pertinently relevant to what I am trying to accomplish in my new role, I am studying hard.

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