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The other night, while watching a television show in which multiple chefs competed for the opportunity to run a restaurant owned by a fiery-tempered Michelin chef, I noticed similarities between their behavior and the behavior of management and employees in other organizations. All the chefs had talent, but there was a wide gap in their technical and leadership capabilities. While some were agile and adaptive, others were resistant and argumentative. Political gamesmanship permeated the kitchen, and the chefs’ emotional intelligence ran the gamut from high to low. The Michelin chef made things worse by changing his leadership style from Jekyll to Hyde, eroding loyalty and trust while the other chefs scrambled to adapt to fragmented teamwork.

The same leadership gap holds true in organizations, whether they are for-profit, nonprofit or government, large or small. Management and employees believe they are capable of creating and implementing new ideas. But when the necessary change fails to take place, management often reasons, pleads, threatens, controls or punishes, and then is surprised when nothing changes or employees resist. Politics kick in and employee resentment goes further underground.

Companies pay big bucks to management consultants to get employees headed in the same direction, but research demonstrates that 70 percent of large-scale strategy and change fails to achieve a more effective organization. The cost—in terms of finances, teamwork, productivity, growth, customer satisfaction, and the organization’s ability to respond to issues and opportunities in an effective and timely manner—is huge.

Organizational change is not about generating a pipeline of activities, feel-good interventions, placing Band-Aids on critical issues, creating smile sheets that provide the appearance of success, or applauding teams that simply dissolve or limp across the finish line remaining powerless to dismantle political roadblocks. Effective change produces measureable, value-added results and impact that are sustainable over a credible amount of time.   

Designing and implementing strategy, change and alignment are required competencies, which cannot be learned by osmosis, wishful thinking or even repetition, especially if repetition equates to previous strategies and change that produced lackluster results or encouraged the organization to move onto the next silver bullet. To create effective change, follow these three critical steps:

  1. Recognize that design and implementation of effective change is complex, messy and political, requiring the competency and commitment of senior management and employees to identify root causes of issues—not symptoms. No witch hunts or smile sheets.
  2. Collection and assimilation of multiple streams of unbiased data are critical to assure fairness and objectivity. Management must have a strong commitment to ask the right questions and assess data from multiple groups of stakeholders, and then follow it up with accurate analysis, prioritization and implementation of next steps to address issues and opportunities in a quality manner and sense of urgency. 
  3. It’s not about “fixing” people, but significantly improving and aligning strategy, processes, systems, incentives (tangible and intangible), accountability (not merely activities), trust and transparency that increase leadership and employee technical and personal competency and commitment across individuals, teams and departments, resulting in the organization’s ability to deliver on its promise (e.g. why you’re in business – who you are serving).

R.L. Caldwell has been working with organizations for 25-plus years, helping to design, lead and implement strategies in organizational development, leadership development, strategy and change. She has served as both an internal and external consultant to Fortune 500s and medium-sized firms. Sectors include energy, technology, pharmaceutical, hospitality, finance, insurance and higher education. For more information about the SCF Leadership Academy, contact Lee Kotwicki at (941) 363-7218 or kotwicL@scf.edu.

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