By Salima Hemani, ACC
In today’s VUCA world, leaders are under pressure to continuously evolve and transform their organizations unlike we’ve seen in the past. The expectations are high, budgets are slim, and employees are often not ready to embrace the change. The combination of these factors creates an uber-stressful environment for change leaders in which their tenacity, resilience and patience to endure these conditions long term, and successfully implement the change gets put at risk. Many years ago, I worked with a senior VP at a top technology company who was leading one of the largest organizational changes in the company’s history. He had, in fact, put his long tenure and reputation in the company at line by taking on a transformation of a magnitude that the organization had not experienced before.
In the beginning, this leader generated great enthusiasm for his vision for change and quickly gathered the support of a team of other leaders to help guide this critical effort. However, a few months into the project, signs of change fatigue began popping up, starting with the senior leader himself. As the day to day reality of the impact of change became more obvious, the leader struggled to maintain the energetic commitment to the set vision, effectively deal with the various pockets of resistance, and dynamically adopt his strategy to the changing stakeholder needs that were being discovered in the process of deploying the change. This leader’s intentions were in the right place; however, over time his vision had not evolved as it needed to successfully manage the transformation. His guiding coalition had become a bubble that prevented him from getting closer to the real challenges different stakeholders were experiencing with this change, thus making him appear un-empathetic and even dictatorial. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon experience for many leaders who embark on organizational transformations.
I have spent two decades consulting and coaching in the area of organizational effectiveness and change management. During this time, I have worked with many different companies, advising them and providing solutions to manage large-scale change. I have also seen firsthand the critical role that a leader plays in the success of any organizational transformation. Leaders not only shape the vision for the change but can make or break the organization’s progress towards the change. Unfortunately, few leaders get the support they personally need to clearly articulate their goals, and sustainably demonstrate the mental agility and physical stamina to support multi-year and often multi-level change efforts. Therefore, giving leaders, who have taken on any such organizational effort, access to a leadership coach can be instrumental in helping them sustain their own strength and clarity of vision, as well as successfully navigate the changing dynamics and needs related to the effort. Leadership Coaching can be a relatively low-cost add-on that can help mitigate risk of low adoption and resistance to change. In fact, it can be just the differentiator that helps leaders successfully lead and manage the change in situations where the odds of the effort failing are high.
A leadership coach will work in partnership with the leader to help them become more self-aware, create and stay on a viable plan for addressing the inevitable organizational challenges, personal behavioral patterns, handicaps and blind spots that can come in the way of long-term success. Through appreciative inquiry and by creating a safe space for leaders to bring out their authentic selves, an effective coach provides the leader the environment and tools to examine their own vulnerabilities in the face of challenges at hand. The coach then works with the leader to help them identify, develop and put into action the new skills and mindsets that they need to overcome the known and unknown pitfalls.
In the example described in the beginning, I worked with this senior leader one-on-one for several months on his mental model and coached him to see his own personal attitude and behavior as an integral part of the transformation effort. This resulted in some critical and timely actions on his part that were successful in removing major roadblocks to his eventual success. No change can be depicted as a straight line; there are ebbs and flows. A trained coach and organizational development consultant can help organizational leaders and employees get prepared to sustain momentum for change through the valleys and manage the pace at the peaks. A good coach meets the client where they are, to help them detangle the various pieces of their emotional and intellectual selves to reach greater awareness and understanding of their own innate abilities and beliefs that have shaped their past, impact their present and the futures that they seek.
The benefits and the edge that working with a leadership coach can provide a leader and an organization, embarking on a journey of change and transformation, are undeniable. According to the International Coach Federation (ICF) and their Global Coaching Client Study, organizations that use coaching “for business reasons have a median return on investment of seven times their initial investment.”
Companies and leaders that pay attention to the following few tips to engage a leadership coach will be well-positioned to successfully deal with the inevitable toll that large-scale change efforts entail:
- Proactively plan and budget for managing the mental, physical and emotional implications that come with leading large-scale change.
- Engage the leadership coach early in the change project to help leaders set and align their own personal intentions and goals for the change with the organizational priorities and vision.
- Choose the right coach to bring on to the team to work with the leadership. Choosing the right coach can consist of various variables. Few key ones to pay close attention to are:
- Coaching credentials & training
- Experience coaching and working with leaders & organizations embarking on or going through organizational change and transformations
- Coach’s own real-life experience in leadership positions and working with executive teams
- Credibility and trustworthiness
Leading a large-scale organizational change is a marathon. Leaders who aspire to win need the right coach by their side to help them maintain momentum; keep focused, clear and strong on the vision for change; and develop new behaviors that help them sustain change in a meaningful way over the long term.
Consult Salima to discuss the organizational change you see for your organization and what support you’ll need to sustain it.