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Challenging Times Require Courageous Decisions

By: Jim T. Taylor

The main responsibility of leadership is to increase the value of a company in the eyes of its owners, employees, and customers. Leadership is also about understanding the company’s environment, anticipating how that environment is changing, and then having the knowledge to make the right changes that allow the company to remain competitive. It requires senior management to operate with a balanced sense of urgency and focus and the ability to maintain equal attention to customers’ needs and one’s own.

Leading change also requires awareness of the inherent tensions that exist within an enterprise. One of the key roles for leaders is to keep the competing demands of an organization equalized so that the enterprise remains in balance, much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel that needs to be adjusted to maintain proper balance to function efficiently. The challenge is to make certain that the wheel is always balanced and headed in the right direction, determined by a strategy to achieve pre-set goals and objectives.

Leadership also means enabling everyone within the organization to learn. For many organizations, learning is sometimes distorted and impeded because of every-day cultural constraints. Some of these have probably developed within the enterprise’s history and past experience. Other constraints exist as a result of management’s mindset, behavior, and values.

Leaders must rigorously examine the cultural state of their enterprise as a part of the change process, addressing those elements that undermine customer, employee and shareholder satisfaction.

There is a process for leading change.

Experience has taught us that there are several critical and intersecting elements that need to be addressed when planning to implement change, including:

  • Setting goals and objectives
  • Installing effective measurements
  • Creating a team structure to complete projects
  • Motivating, inspiring, and communicating with transparency
  • Constructively confronting unacceptable behaviorApplying the right solutions to the right problems at the right time

Change initiatives are often disappointing because several of these actions are either unrecognized or, worse yet, ignored.

Primary responsibility of leadership is to increase the value of the enterprise.

Most enterprises are designed to deliver value to their customers through the products and services that they offer.  They do this through the collective efforts of people who execute tasks within a process framework that is expected to deliver the right product, at the right time, in the right place at a competitive value.

Management’s role is to make decisions about what the organization should be working on to keep the enterprise positioned to grow and prosper. Increasing value is about simultaneous improvement in three areas:  First, the processes that the enterprise uses to do the work, next, the decisions that are made about what work to do or what not to do; and finally, awareness about how;people think, behave, and interact throughout the process of change initiative.

The biggest problem we encounter, and it’s a primary reason for Greater Yield existence, is that most enterprises have difficulty integrating their people, processes, and decision making within a robust mechanism for creating value. We like to use the model of a three-legged milk stool. The departure of any one of the three legs causes the stool to collapse.

It’s senior manager’s job to integrate these elements into their organization’s transformation effort. Leadership must be focused on changing what is required to increase value and translate that into doing what’s best for the company and the customer.

But knowing what is required is simply not enough. Management must then clearly explain its expectations to everyone involved, be ready to remove obstacles to delivering on their understanding and, finally, inspire the company to stay the course while making the changes that are needed.

When a change effort is started, management must know what the financial benefits of a transformation effort will be, what resources and costs will be associated with the effort, and how long it will take, what the end state will look like, and most important, how those within the organization will respond.

All companies are different, as each operates within a prescribed environment with a different set of objectives, abilities, and vulnerabilities. But the details of what senior managers need to know are not nearly as important as a process that reveals what they don’t know (but perhaps think they do) and how they can learn what they need to know.

The challenge is that critical transformation issues are often unseen by management. Change requires an unbiased pair of eyes with the vision to see all of the factors that interfere with creating value. This is especially true when overcoming cultural barriers.

The risk part in leading a change involves the cultural impact.

Failure to properly assess the culture of a company and not deal effectively with the barriers to change can lead to a total unwinding of the change process. Culture is a complex subject and has many facets that affect enterprise outcomes. The ability of leadership to correctly diagnose and then respond effectively to cultural issues almost always determines the difference between the success and failure of a transformation.

Another reason associated with not dealing with cultural issues properly is the lack of time; that is, the more resistant a culture is to change, the longer it takes to make it happen. However, concern about the loss of time should not deter anyone from starting the process.

How does a leader begin to shape the behavior of her or his organization to foster the change desired?

First and foremost, leaders must do what they say they are going to do. People respond more to action than words. Observation of successful leaders indicates these individuals demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Modify their own performance first so the organization can pattern correctly
  • Maintain crystal clear expectations of themselves; and how people should respond to the goals and objectives of the company
  • Create an environment that leads to success
  • Dedicate the time necessary and are aware of the steps that are necessary to implement change
  • Establish pathways for sharing information

Everyone views change differently. Their response to change can range from optimism to pessimism, from opportunity to threat, from responsibility to nuisance, from a chance to learn to a chance to fail. The whole process is framed by what motivates and energizes each individual. We all have the chance to grow from our individual and collective experiences. One of the cornerstones of change is setting in motion actions that motivate and energize each individual.

Leaders must know how the spirit of the organization can be harnessed through inspiration of others as well as their own personal commitment. It’s the job of leadership to empower their people and then focus their energies on achieving a common goal. This turns potentially negative emotions into positive emotions.

Leaders usually see change as an opportunity to succeed but often overlook the spectrum of sentiments that the rest of the organization feels. They tend to lump everyone into silos and ignore the latent energy that resides in every person in every organization. The leader who can tap into that energy can succeed in bringing clarity to the vision of the entire organization.

When middle managers and employees perceive change as a threat, their supervisors must convince them that change can be a very positive and healthy development in the organization’s life. This can be especially potent when the effort is viewed as an opportunity to grow and thus enhance one’s career. These actions are an excellent source of strengthening both the organization as a whole and each individual.
It is the executive’s responsibility to show the organization that change does not necessarily have to upset the balance, threaten the status quo, or be disruptive. The message is that embracing transformation can be a very elevating experience for many companies and the people in them.

To alter vision it takes courage for a leader to see him or her as others do. The leader must also create a vision for the transformed company, one that people can accept for themselves. There are attributes demonstrated by high performance cultures, among these are:

  • Vision—see clearly and act with purpose
  • Transparency—engage regularly in open two-way communications
  • Results orientation—identify and close performance gaps
  • Tolerance—allow failure when it leads to learning
  • Discipline—follow a process for everything.

The leader’s vision should ultimately embrace the adoption of these ideals. Indeed, it should illuminate them in a compelling way. When these behaviors become an enterprisewide, ethic and culture change will be accomplished and, more often that not, results will exceed expectations.

About the Author(s)

Jim T. Taylor is principal of Greater Yield, a Dallas-based provider of customized enterprise transformation solutions, and an expert in turnaround management.During his career, Taylor has led numerous companies through successful restructurings and high growth phases on a complex global scale.  Because of his proven ability to turn both profitable and underperforming companies into strong and successful enterprises, Taylor received the International Stevie Award for Best Turnaround Executive and the Jenkins & Gilchrist CEO of the Year Award in 1996.