When circumstances force an organisation to change, it can be tricky to acknowledge what the right thing is for the greater good. Vested interests can seem threatened, former internal tensions can resurface, or people might not feel the pain and ignore signals as mere noise. As decisions are taken to move forward, people will have to commit and deliver. The quality of their commitment will depend on their ability to make the choice to commit. Sure, people can fulfil a task because of an implied threat if they do not, but coercing people does not lift their performance. It just ensures compliance. The challenge in leading a transformation turns then into ensuring that people across the organisation have an opportunity to choose to commit before they are allocated to a task.
That opportunity will naturally be offered to members of the management team. Reaching consent could be more challenging than ensuring commitment, even if support for the transformation is revisited periodically in light of progress. After all, a management team is geared to reach decisions and stick to them. As the need for commitment move down the chain of command, ways to manufacture choices become more challenging. The communication about change will already have defined what needs addressing and where the organisation is expected to go. It is still possible to define space for people to choose how they would go about it. Offering such freedom can sound counterproductive, but this would only be true for a short while, as visible progress achieved by committed peers should force doubters to reconsider their involvement. This is not advocating for a corporate democracy, where every staff’s view on a change can help or hinder its progress. Rather, the aim is to seek full commitment by establishing a culture of straightforwardness and trustworthiness.
So, when the time comes to revisit the way changes are implemented, it might be worth asking yourself the following questions:
- What track record do we have in successfully implementing change in our organisation?
- How do we approach staff impacted by a transformation? Do we look for collaboration or for compliance?
- Does our culture value being straightforward and trustworthy?