This blog is a result of the research I am doing to prepare for the launch of two cultural change programmes. I am seeing a strong link between successful change and effective leadership. Ensuring the right leadership behaviours are in place is one of the most important strategies of effective APMG Change Management, because in change we are asking people to do things differently.
Change is risky, because in the short term it involves mistakes, slower work rates and greater stress. These risks can be minimised by supportive leadership who encourage staff to ‘give things a go/try things out’. Alternatively, these risks can be increased by uncompromising leaders who always demand high performance.
To change the culture of an organisation, we need to decide on the values and beliefs that we want all our employees. We need to create an environment that encourages them to adopt these beliefs.
For example, I am helping to develop an innovation culture, which includes the belief that ‘anyone can have a good idea’. This is a simple belief, but to make it become a reality, I will need to help many leaders in the organisation adjust their behaviours. At present, the organisation has a strong ‘command and control’ structure. Individual employees work to a strict set of procedures and rules, and any innovations must go through several committees and steering groups before getting official sign-off from a director.
Of course, we can all see how that structure stifles creativity and innovation. I need leaders to become ‘human’. I need them to be part of their team, not above their team. I don’t need them sitting in judgement but really taking part in the day to day generation of ideas and energetic problem solving that constitutes an innovation culture.
Elements of effective leadership
I have undertaken a lot of research about the kind of working environment needed to keep the ideas flowing. Whilst a lot of organisations have invested in couches, bean bags and great coffee machines, it is interesting to see the number of surveys that point to great leadership as the missing link.
Essentially all of these reports contain the same elements – effective leadership:
- Staff want regular, constructive meetings where their views are sought
- Focus is on positive resolution of issues after consulting staff on their ideas and viewpoints
Giving good feedback
- Praise for a job well done but also highlighting areas for development
- Leader who listens, can help them with technical problems but who leaves them alone to do their jobs and doesn’t micro-manage them
Interest in staff
- Staff want leaders who help them in their careers, show concern for their well being and are interested in them as individuals and not just the job they do
Creating good leadership
I was inspired at a recent workshop by the idea of setting ‘Service Level Agreements’ for leadership behaviours. This includes a contracting conversation between the leader and their team members, each setting out the expectations the other has. By having this explicit conversation, there is a chance to build a relationship of honesty and fairness, and in turn this leads to trust.
By framing this conversation in the terminology of a service level agreement encourages the identification of minimum standards and frequency and regularity of actions. This takes the concept of good leadership and turns it into practical activities that can be assessed and measured.
This brings to the excellent points made by Stephen R. Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust” which gives great examples of the cost to business where there is no trust: cost of duplication of work when colleagues don’t trust each other to do a good enough job; cost of overseeing the work of others because you don’t trust them to do it right etc.
Simon Sinek in this interesting video makes the point that when we don’t trust each other in business, we cannot focus on the good of the organisation. If you trust a colleague to look out for you, you can focus on doing the right thing for your company, without having to put time and effort into protecting your ideas or defending the quality of your work against unfounded criticism.
When I wrote the book ‘Agile Change Management’ I compared over twenty different models of trust from a wide variety of sources, I suggest that the key elements to creating trust are:
- Be reliable – do what you say you are going to do, when you said you would do it
- Be predictable – be clear about your values and your positions on different issues so that others can understand your reactions to events
- Be congruent – make sure there is consistency between how you ask others to behave and how you behave yourself
- Be open – give honest feedback and do not avoid difficult conversations and welcome honest feedback in return
- Be loyal – give credit to others for their work and provide your support when it is needed
None of this is new, but it is an important reminder that for change to be effective, it needs to be supported by the most basic element of all, effective leadership.