Monday, April 7, 2014

Leading and Achieving Organizational Transformation (Part 1/4): Strong Communication

(Part 1 of a 4 part series on leading and achieving organizational transformation)

Organizational transformation is one of the most challenging tasks for a leader to undertake.  Fundamentally, leading organizational transformation is about using vision, communication, teamwork, urgency, empowerment, tenacity, and more to enact widespread changes in an organization in order to align it with the changing dynamics of the environment in which it operates1.  Because of both the breadth and depth of the workforce that makes up modern organizations, a unity of effort approach is needed and gone are the days of a singular leader, with a singular idea, that coerces and motivates a workforce to implement it.  To accomplish this organizational transformation endeavor, organizational leaders must focus on specific efforts that together create the required drive and effectiveness at every level of the workforce.  These efforts are: 
1) strong communication utilizing frames (Part 1)
2) creating a shared vision (Part 2)
3) leveraging high-performing teams (Part 3)
4) shifting to a systems perspective (Part 4)

Strong Communication

Strong communication that utilizes frames is important because it creates an opportunity for dialogue between senior leaders and their workforce.  If leaders in the organization do not understand the concerns of their workforce, then by default, the solutions the leaders come up with either will not be representative of their concerns, or more likely, will not address their concerns at all.  This is a situation to be avoided at all costs.  Not only do communication lines have to be open, but also communication has to actually be taking place2.  Once this is the case, it is important that the perspective of the workforce is understood and valued by the leadership and vice versa.  This is why proper framing is so essential.   Appropriate framing, understanding different perspectives and being able to listen and think critically from other points of view, creates an environment where the workforce has more trust in the leader because his or her ideas are an accurate representation of their concerns.  This ultimately allows teams in the organization to be more successful, largely because it creates a overall organizational dynamic and culture of trust, where individuals feel their inputs and ideas are understood, valued, and acted upon.

Successful transformation efforts require this focused and extensive communication and framing because organizational transformation has to have a champion that has these skills.  This champion, usually a senior leader in the organization, but not acting alone, must constantly argue and advocate for the needed change, almost to the point of over-communication3.  The intensity and periodicity of this communication is needed to ensure the ideas being communicated fuse with the organizational psyche, and are reinforced to ensure that all of the organization is hearing the message, not just a small attentive group.  The concept of framing is what makes this communication effective, instead of just overpowering.  No matter how much or often communication is happening, if the organization as a whole doesn’t feel like the true problems are being addressed, then there will be resistance to change.  This is one reason that causes newly arrived senior leaders who come in with a grand plan for organizational change to fail.  While the idea may be a sound one, the leader is seen using his or her own frame instead of taking the time to understand their new organization and understand the perspectives of those individuals that make it up4.  Ultimately, successful transformation will require communication that is both frequent to get the message across, and appropriately framed to ensure it is the right message.

1 Kotter, J. (1995). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, March-April 1995, 59-67.
2 Muller, H. (2011). The transformational CIO: Leadership and innovation strategies for IT executives in a rapidly changing world. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
3 Kello, J. (2012). So you want transformation leadership….  Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, 46(2), 22.
4 Manderscheid, S. & Ardichvili, A. (2008). A Conceptual Model for Leadership Transition. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 20(3/4), 113-129.

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