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Wednesday 19 November 2008

Follow My Leader - To Effect Change, Leaders Must Walk the Talk!

by Glen Feechan

A leader's role

In any change project, a leader must wear many hats,
however his/her role can be split into two key areas:

1. Set the strategic direction of the change and;

2. Convince everyone of its importance.

The importance of the first part of this role is generally
understood and is for another article on another day, however the second part is
often overlooked (or done very badly) and can be of even greater importance.

Where this point is addressed, it is generally done by
giving presentations and distributing memos. Although these can be necessary,
they are often ignored or just paid lip service if the most important method of
communicating the importance of the project is missed - action.

"Do as I say, not as I do!"

Many of us will have heard this line from our parents
(some of us just might have been known to use it with our own kids now and
again), but can we remember how patronising it felt?

Too often this is the message communicated to employees
from senior management during a major change. Employees are expected to attend
seminars and workshops (and are sent memos and emails stressing their
importance). These may even be preceded by a major presentation from the
managing director, stating that everyone must give full support to the project.
The senior management then continue to go about their day-to-day jobs as if
nothing has changed.

The Managing Director misses a session he was scheduled to
attend because he has a meeting with a major client then the Sales Director uses
this excuse at the next session, which the Finance Director also misses because
he has a meeting with the auditors. In the next round of workshops, there are no
salesmen able to attend (they all have meetings with clients), the payroll clerk
cannot attend because the wages must be processed and the management accountant
makes his excuses because he is under pressure to get the month-end accounts

Pretty soon the project is completely off the rails and
the managing director is wondering what went wrong. The simple fact is that
people follow the examples of their leaders rather than what they are told. When
the Managing Director demonstrated that his meeting with a client was
more important than the project, this message was picked up by the Sales
Director (who also has important meetings with clients), then comes the Finance
Director, who is quite sure that his meeting with the auditors is at least as
important as any client meeting. This message is then cascaded down to those
reporting to these directors, until no-one is attaching any importance to this

Perception is reality

Not only must the senior management team give the project
the priority it deserves (and that they are telling everyone else that it has),
they must go out of their way to be seen to do so. This is often best
done by doing something out of character that clearly (and publicly)
demonstrates the importance of the project. This may involve such activities as
missing a regular golfing trip to attend a workshop session (no-one said it was
going to be easy) or coming in on a Saturday morning to attend a session with
Saturday staff. The trick is to get people talking in the canteen about how
important the management must see this project as, if the managing director is
missing his golf/Saturday mornings, etc.

Listen and act

As a project progresses, one of the best ways to
demonstrate its importance is to listen to feedback from workshops, etc. and act
on it as soon as possible. This demonstrates that the project can really make a
difference and that this is everyone's opportunity to contribute to how the
business operates.

If senior management can demonstrate this level of
commitment, the project is well on the way to success.

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