Define the future and Sponsor the transition

To lead organizations through constant change, the senior management team of 2015 must define the future and sponsor the transition.  In other words, they must connect ‘hard’ business strategy with ‘soft’ factors like employee engagement and culture. I’ve seen many management teams struggle to achieve the right balance.  With this in mind, I am offering five steps for consideration.

Step 1:  Make the senior management team responsible for the transition

When change touches everyone in an organization, senior management teams should be held responsible for the success of the transition. Currently many organizations have designated functional teams who are expected to both lead the transition (of a bunch of people who don’t report to them!) and foster collaboration with their peers (with a bunch of people who don’t yet think collaboratively!). Although the designated functional teams can do much of the legwork, I believe that employees only respond to managers that they report to and trust.

Step 2:  Articulate the guiding principles for the transition

Once clear responsibilities are assigned, and senior management teams understand their role in the transition, they should collectively define the principles that will guide their collaborative efforts.  Senior management teams should agree on the importance of the ‘soft’ factors in their achievement of the ‘hard’ business strategy.  Developing guiding principles is the best way to ensure that this important conversation takes place.

Step 3:  Define the future in real terms

Once the guiding principles are defined, senior management teams should clearly describe the end state and all its major components. Visions of digital, mobile and efficient work environments (provided as examples) are at best conceptually defined. In real terms, what do they really mean?

This is not simply a question of definitions (which are readily available through any internet search), nor is it a question of precedence (what everyone else is doing), rather a question of a specific organization’s context and culture. Definitions and precedence are a good place to start, however each senior management team must translate this information into the language of their own organizational goals, requirements, and workplace behaviours.

Step 4:  Define how the business will change

Once the future has been defined in real terms, senior management teams should seek to understand how their business must change in order to achieve the future state.

A first conversation (or series of conversations) should define the business goals and objectives (current and future). Ideally business goals and objectives are defined in terms of strategic (client facing) and essential (enabling and regulated).  Ideally the business goals and objectives are outlined in business planning documentation.

A second conversation should define the business (current and future) in terms of its clients, services, outcomes, measures, and monitoring tools. Ideally the business is described within the constructs of a performance measurement strategy.

A final conversation should focus on the gap between the current and future state (identified in the first and second conversations) and seek to answer the question: What exactly is changing?  Who exactly is impacted by these changes? Ideally the description of the changes and impacts are included in project planning documentation.

Step 5:  Sponsor the transition

Once the change has been well-defined, senior management teams should embrace their ongoing role as sponsors for the transition. Prosci, the leading change management research organization, tells us that the role of a sponsor is:

  1. Participate actively and visibly throughout the project – The role of active and visible participation for the primary sponsor was cited more frequently than any other sponsor activity. Study participants identified a list of activities that constituted active and visible sponsorship from allocating the necessary funding to attending project review meetings. The other important word in this role is “throughout” – sponsors cannot disappear once they’ve attended the kick-off meeting for a project. Their sustained presence is necessary to build and maintain momentum for a change.
  2. Build a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance – Participants stated the need for the primary sponsor to take a lead role in building and maintaining a healthy coalition in support of the change. The sponsor must mobilize other key business leaders and stakeholders so they can take the change back to their part of the organization. The coalition is especially important for changes that stretch across multiple parts of the organization.
  3. Communicate directly with employees – As noted above, employees want to hear about why a change is important from someone at the top – either at the very top of the organization or at the top of their department or division (i.e. someone from the sponsor coalition). Senior leaders are looked to for messages about why the change is being made and the risks or costs if no change is made.

There are no recipes for success during time of constant change, however all senior management teams can make minor adjustments that will deliver maximum results.  The five steps shared above will help senior managers achieve the right balance between ‘hard’ business strategy and ‘soft’ factors like employee engagement and culture.

The best news of all is that it’s never too early or too late – the five steps are relevant whether they are proactively planned or reactively applied as mitigation strategies.   


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