I came across a great article from Chief Learning Officer (CLO), titled “How Do You Get Leaders to Change?” In this article, the author outlines the usual steps that are prescribed for getting leaders to change, and proposes some additional steps/efforts to increase the likelihood of success in the change effort.
We at Lumin are currently working with the wonderful Department Heads, Managers, and Supervisors (over 120 of them) of a County in Wisconsin to help them manage both organizational and individual changes concurrently. So, we thought it would be interesting to see how our method stacks up to the one proposed in the CLO article.
The Standard Steps (paraphrased from the original):
- There must be a clear need for change. In 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Act 10, part of which did away with most of the functions that unions served within the public sector. As a result, the County we are working with is implementing a pay-for-performance system to empower leaders to make compensation decisions based on performance- something they had not previously been asked to do. Because the impetus for change was external, the change was clearly necessary and unavoidable. In addition to implementing a pay-for-performance system, leaders are now being asked to develop skills that support the system, such as giving feedback, managing conflict, and developing others. All employees of the county are now also expected to contribute to a positive culture within the organization and align their behaviors with the county values, in addition to the technical performance of their job. The need for this change was supported by several years of culture surveys (we use the Denison) that we have done with the County in the past, showing that, while there has been steady, positive change in culture over the last 5 years, this, too, could be an opportunity to impact the culture in an intentional and strategic way.
- Individual leaders must know where they stand today. Our intervention with the County consists of a year-long leadership and management development program (LMDP). Early in the program, each of the leaders took the EQ-i (a very highly regarded measure of emotional intelligence) so that they could gain awareness of their current skills and opportunities for development. Based on this information, feedback from others, etc., each leader created an individual leadership development plan, which required them to not only set goals, but identify methods for change, potential challenges, resources, and metrics for success.
- There must be instruction on how to change, ideally along with skill practice and application. Ten months out of this year we have/will be in Wisconsin, delivering training sessions (5 sessions over the course of 3 days, each with about 25 participants from various departments and levels of the organization) to all of the leaders in the County. During these sessions, participants receive didactic and experiential training, with plenty of opportunity to discuss real-world solutions and problems, role-play new skills, give and receive feedback, and engage in active work time on projects and questions that affect their departments and the County as a whole.
- Individuals must try the new behaviors in a safe environment and then in the real work environment. As mentioned, the participants do have the opportunity to practice their new skills in the LMDP, but they are also assigned due-outs (i.e., homework) for each class, which always involve some form of practice on the new skills. Then, at the following session, participants are required to discuss their practice in small groups and then as a large group so that there is inherent accountability and everyone is able to learn from the successes and challenges of others. We recently completed an evaluation to check the progress that participants are making and we have heard a lot about how these new skills are being used more frequently than before and how they have been useful and transformative in the departments.
- Individuals must reflect on the results of the change, which reinforces the utility of the change and the motivation to sustain new behaviors. Toward the end of the program, participants will have the opportunity to reflect on their own development and the extent to which they have accomplished the goals they set for themselves. They will also (along with everyone else in the County) have their performance evaluated by their supervisor in the newly improved performance appraisal system (a good portion of which was designed during an LMDP workshop by the supervisors, managers, and Department Heads themselves), which will allow them to track their (and their staff’s) continued progress over time.
The “Something More”:
- It’s tough, but change is possible. We agree! It takes sustained effort, support from top leadership, and leaders and employees who are invested enough in the organization to commit to the effort it takes to make it better. Lucky for County (and us!), they have all of these.
- Begin with data and dialogue. Our data came in the form of the culture survey results, which, while showing improvement over the years, still had some room for growth. The dialogue started several months before any changes (including the LMDP) were actually implemented. Leaders were given the opportunity to ask questions, challenge beliefs, contribute their thoughts and concerns, and develop buy-in before anything new was ever asked of them. The leaders in the County, in particular the County Administrator and Deputy County Administrator, have displayed amazing foresight, empathy, and wisdom in their approach to this change from the very beginning, and the vast majority of leaders arrived at the first LMDP session somewhere between faithfully enthusiastic and skeptical, but willing to be persuaded.
- Make it relevant. What makes this change relevant for the leaders of the County is that it will impact their own pay and the income of their staff. Many of the staff see this as an opportunity, not a risk. They realize that they and their staff have control over their own performance, and therefore, also have the power to positively influence their own salary. In addition, they and their staff were heavily involved in defining the performance requirements in their department, which directly informed the performance appraisal form that department will use. An example of this was allowing the leaders to identify observable behaviors that would be consistent (and inconsistent) with the County values in their particular department because, as logic would dictate, Customer Focus can “look” very different depending on if you work in Human Resources, Social Services, the Sheriff’s Department, etc.
- Mix it up and customize. To the greatest extent possible, as illustrated by methods already discussed, we allow leaders to define the process, goals, expectations, etc. They are the experts on what it takes to be successful in their positions and departments, so we provide the framework for how to go about doing it. What many leadership development programs (in our experience) fail to do is help participants translate the information they are learning into action. One size doesn’t fit all, so by providing opportunities to practice a variety of tools, techniques, and processes, each participant is empowered to create their own formula for success.
- We also use a variety of teaching and learning opportunities in different formats – written, spoken, electronic, paper, listening, reading, practicing, discussing, and doing – so that each has an opportunity to learn as they do best. We ask for feedback at the end of every session and have regular contact with the executive leadership in the County to ensure that we are on track and addressing the most important needs at the time. We are able to adjust the curriculum, approach, resources, etc. as necessary to keep meeting the County’s needs.
- Consequences matter. This refers to the consequences that leaders face for not changing. It should be made clear that challenging the change, the process, the system, and our methods is highly encouraged. The County does not expect blind followership, but rather a willingness to remain open-minded. Every concern or dissenting opinion has utility in creating change that works in the long-run, so even negative opinions are welcome. However, the change still has to happen. Early on, the expectation was made clear that things were changing – that’s a given – and that everyone would be given every opportunity to succeed, but that they needed to be willing to change along with the County. It was also acknowledged that the new system would not be a good fit for everyone, and that those who did not want to change or who did not feel the new system was a good fit for them would be supported in finding another role within the County or a position elsewhere that better suited their needs. Obviously, a potential reduction in pay as a result of ongoing poor performance is a pretty serious consequence and one that has been more of a source of motivation than fear-based compliance.
- Respect must be earned. This refers to modeling good change behaviors and demonstrating that the change is getting results. The leadership at the County is outstanding and they are definitely modeling the necessary behaviors and reinforcing the message. We have not heard any of the usual complaints that the staff are being subjected to expectations that leadership is not. They know they are all in this together. As for results, the evaluation we just performed suggests that participants feel the LMDP is preparing them to manage performance in this way, and the first round of performance appraisals using the new system is reportedly going well. We will continue to ask for feedback and adjust aspects that are not meeting the current needs, but every indication is that employees feel the change is necessary and that greater results are now possible as a result of the change efforts.
The CLO article provides a great framework for how to help leaders change, and while it is mainly focused on individual change, you can see that the principles are applicable to a broader-scale, organizational change as well. We hope you have learned a little more about change management and enjoyed hearing one example of an approach to helping a client lead change and change leaders at the same time.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Is anything missing?
Thank you for taking the time to read and see you next time!