According to new insights drawn from work completed by HFL in the last eighteen months, there is a common theme emerging from most of our client organisations. Leaders must be able to master leading change – quickly. But how do organisations accelerate change capability? How do they identify those emerging leaders with the greatest capability to lead change successfully?
One of our clients made a brave and enlightened decision late last year to design a leadership program for high potential leaders focused entirely on leading change.
This client is, like many, in dynamic transition. The market in which they operate is undergoing profound transformation – including changing market conditions, new entrants, rapidly evolving technology, and more demanding customer requirements. Strategically, our client is in the process of determining a new direction and new value to its customers – it is quietly reinventing itself.
The strategic piece is ongoing. Direction has yet to be firmly established. But one thing was clear – emerging leaders will need to compellingly and efficiently drive change through the organisation in the years to come.
As a consequence, the L&D team convinced the leaders of the business to choose change as the main focus for the high potential leadership program. The program is currently underway. It has as its main activity a change project (supported by a myriad of other development activities).
But far from being in an unusual position, facing rapid change, our client’s predicament is becoming the norm.
In the past year, HFL senior consultants have interviewed more than 200 senior leaders at various client organisations, in preparation for the construction of leadership development programs. The ability to lead change effectively as a key requirement comes up, usually at or near the top of the list, in the majority of organisations.
A reading of these 200 interviews reveals what senior leaders themselves believe about change capability going forward:
• The majority of leaders interviewed believe that change in market and competitive conditions has become a constant; periods of market stability are a thing of the past, and the emergence of disruptive technologies, volatile market conditions, and the arrival of new entrants will be business as usual;
• This implies that organisations that are capable of embracing and delivering change efficiently and quickly will be the long term winners; those that don’t will decline or possibly even perish;
• Most senior leaders interviewed say that most leaders in their organisation are poor at leading change. They believe that a significant across-the-board improvement in capability in this area is required if their organisations are to prosper in the next five to ten years. Some of those interviewed believe that very senior leaders of long standing in the business are likely to be most resistant to change, and are least likely to realise they are;
• There is an acknowledgement that the capabilities that are generally linked to effective leaders of change are some of those that leaders often struggle with most: emotional intelligence, dealing with ambiguity, very high level communications skills, creativity, ability to foster an innovative environment, and the ability to motivate and inspire individuals and teams. (Of course there are many more capabilities which are mentioned in the vast body of work that surrounds the successful leading of change.) There is a clear agenda: leadership programs that don’t focus significantly on leading change will not be providing the “delivering change” capability that the business leaders say their organisations need.
In the past twelve months, our team has been experimenting, with some success and some great lessons, on helping leaders develop change capabilities. Specifically:
• We have designed a development centre that assesses the current readiness and future potential of a leader to lead change. This involves observed behaviour, but also a personality and cognitive study of a leaders’ attributes against the HFL Change Leader Profile we have developed. As a consequence of this design, we were able to advise a client on which participants should be chosen to be developed for change leadership roles, and which should not;
• We have designed a development program that specifically prepares participants to lead change;
• We have developed specific methodologies that enable our clients to stage action learning projects that provide participants with the real time experience of leading change in their organisation, but with structured support and safety net elements.
We suspect that most L&D teams across the region will have been working on processes and programs that assist this development objective. We are keen to share what we have learned, and learn what you have experienced.