Developing leaders to seed change

Emergn - Developing leaders to seed change - scissors and cut outs of people

In any organizational change, people are the most critical players in making that change happen. If you want to increase your chances of success, you need to embed the change in your organization’s culture.

We often use the metaphor of an iceberg when describing the two levels at which the culture of an organization manifests itself: there’s the formal culture which consists of the visible aspects of your organization such as process, tools, organizational structure (the top of the iceberg) and the informal culture which consists of your beliefs, language, values and behaviors (the hidden, bottom of the iceberg). A sustained change would mean that you need to address both. Just changing the processes and giving new tools to people would be a superficial and ineffective investment. You need to influence people’s underlying values, behaviors and actions too. This would mean investing in developing the capabilities of your own people.

From what we have experienced, most organizations are very good at creating a vision for change and taking a few steps forward – but a large portion of organizations fail to sustain it. We have found that developing leaders to seed change is a powerful way to make that change stick.

Who are these leaders? Well, they’re people who work for your organization, and who have the skills and knowledge required to implement the change. They buy into the vision and are enthusiastic about making a difference. They have the credibility and ability to inspire others by communicating the reason for change. They lead by demonstrating the behaviors that will drive the desired transformation.

We’ve found that when developing leaders to create a sustained change, it is essential to have them at all levels of the organization – from top to bottom. Having leaders at all levels within your organization dramatically increases the chances of a true cultural shift – rather than a temporary swell-taking place.

Change typically comes from three different areas:

  • Those who actually implement and experiment with new approaches, as well as adopting new tools and practices to deliver the change – we might call these people the practitioners.
  • Those who work with and across teams to spread the new approach, and assisting the teams in implementing new practices and tools – internal coaches who essentially serve as internal consultants.
  • Those who regularly communicate the importance of the change to teams by linking back to the company’s vision and strategy. They are the beacons for transformational leadership – and they typically hold executive-level positions.

So how do we develop leaders to seed change?

The most common approach to building new capabilities is to put people on training courses for two or three days. The expectation is that they will return demonstrating the desired behaviors that will enable the change. In our experience this doesn’t actually happen.

Having tested a number of different approaches, we’ve developed a model that has proven successful in a number of different settings. This helped us introduce an Agile approach to those organizations and enabled them to deliver sustained and far-reaching change.

We start with a two day kick-off event that engages potential leaders. This gives the initial boost that gets people started and it creates an appetite for the change. This kick off also helps build a common language among the participants and aligns their understanding of the key principles of Agile.

Off the back of this we then take enthusiastic candidates on a journey to evolve their skills through a time-boxed coaching program. We not only teach and demonstrate the theory behind Agile and Lean using VFQ work-based education, but also help them introduce incremental change to their organization. Coming out of the coaching program, leaders are able to become champions for sustaining new practices within their teams and driving continuous improvement throughout the organization.

Changing the culture of your organization isn’t trivial. Organizations are essentially a collection of people brought together with the intent to achieve a mission. If you want the change to stick, you need to engage your own people. And the best way to do this is to invest in developing leaders who can then drive and sustain change.