I have met with numerous companies who say that it will take 12 months to plan a leadership development program and then 6 months to implement and that then there will be another 6 months of data gathering and that then they will start to see the long-term behavioural changes they desire and so on. It does NOT take that long to start changing leadership, team performance or anything else you care to imagine. Not to mention the fact that by the time you develop it, it will be outdated and people will have “left the building.”
A colleague who is managing a large enterprise told me the other day about how he has recently come into the organisation and immediately started sorting out the non-performing culture. He called one underperformer into his office who broke down, assuming they were about to be fired. He said, “No, I’m not firing you. I want to give you a chance. But this is what you have to do.” That person immediately lifted their game and has been performing very well. Immediate change in performance! The person just had to see a reason and have a specific plan.
Now, he wasn’t using the threat of firing – the employee initially assumed he was taking that route. That fear-based kind of threat will generally only prompt short-term and shallow change, unless you go the route of megalomaniacal fascist dictator. But that would require far more resources than most of you can bring to bear, not to mention the nasty lifestyle.
Here are 7 keys to dramatic organisational change (because that’s the number of completion):
- Motivation – Assess the individual’s motivation and how to ally with that for change. Most people act in their self-interest. Whole nations do. That’s the force of human nature and history. (If you find someone motivated by the greater good, hold on to them for dear life.) If you want to change something in the workplace or your organisation or society, find out what makes them tick and work with it. That’s why leadership development programs that run alongside and outside of work practices and needs become irrelevant. “That’s all fine in theory”, people say, “but my job is to make money or xxxx”. Combine leadership with job performance and needs!
- Process – Ensure that the process you are putting in place are allied to motivations, capability and desired results. It is unfortunately unsurprising how frequently these are not aligned.
- The Job – The work itself should be relevant, meaningful and important to outcomes. And the people doing it should be shown the connections. Their tasks should also be clearly aligned with capabilities or at a level for which they can realistically strive, just above their current capability. (Don’t position them at or beyond their maximum level of incompetence.)
- Environment – Make sure that the environment and resources support the new behaviours and desired processes/outcomes. There’s nothing worse than being a shown a new way to do something, being excited and then finding you don’t have the tools to do the job.
- Expectations – There should be specific expectations. Don’t be vague. Be explicit about behaviours, norms, values and outcomes.
- Rewards and Punishments – Reward the desired behaviour and punish (or, in hrspeak/eduspeak/psychespeak, enable negative consequences for) the undesirable. But positive reinforcements and rewards are more powerful in the long run and should be emphasised far more than punishments/negatives. The negatives help to set the boundaries, just like your children should be told, “No, don’t touch the burning hot stove or you will be burnt and it will hurt!”
- Flexibility – Adjust course as needed. Let the people shape the outcome – they should “own it”. You might need to change your mind about how to achieve something. The important thing is achieving it in a way that makes all proud and optimises benefits.
I work to create dramatic change. Most of my consulting projects are 6 months or less. I start getting results within a few weeks, if not immediately – not always the whole, but in part. And that’s partially because I come in focussed on achieving specific results and integrate everything I do and communicate into achieving those results. Assuming that sufficient resources can be applied and that people have the capability, then large organisations can be subject to dramatic change. The necessary ingredient is sufficient political/leadership will.
Following through to completion and then following up on those projects, checking results against an annual business cycle, tweaking and reinforcing may well happen over the course of a year or more (and should be reinforced for long-term change and adaptation). But for most organisations, if you don’t start seeing results – that is, changing behaviours – within 2-3 months, then you or your manager or your HR people are probably spinning their wheels or just conducting assessments and analyses. It kills action, breeds cynicism and leads to poor outcomes.
Change doesn’t have to take as long as you think.