I recently sat down with Rob Jacobs, a civic entrepreneur with a strong interest in making and managing change. His video production company, Robert Scott Jacobs Productions, produces a web series, Conversations on Change, that explores these themes. Our conversation around leadership and organizational transformation inspired me to share my thoughts on the topic in this blog.
Leaders who succeed at transforming their organizations don’t just hope for success. They undertake personal transformations and learn skills that status quo leaders lack the courage to master.
In my 30 years as an executive coach and advisor to CEOs, I have worked with 1000s of leaders, including close to 60 CEOs in just the past 5 years. Here is what I have learned from them and my experience about successful transformations:
- Success at transformation requires two distinct chapters
- Cost cutting and improving efficiency (i.e. doing what you currently do faster and cheaper)
- Experimenting and developing new avenues for revenue growth and innovation (at scale)
- The best predictor of success is a CEO who recognizes that only a new approach will dramatically improve or save the organization and is willing to hold herself and her leaders accountable for meeting radically higher standards of personal performance.
- A second key to success is the CEO’s ability to craft and communicate a compelling and urgent story about the need for change. This must be coupled with a narrative that is specific and inspiring for employees and other stakeholders about the destination they are journeying towards.
- Most CEOs and leadership teams are not prepared to lead successful transformations. A terrific analogy (used by McKinsey) is putting airline pilots into the cockpit of a fighter aircraft. Airline pilots are trained for safety and consistency (and most business leaders are experienced at leading in stable environments). Fighter pilots need to make quick decisions, manage risk and innovate in the moment (skills airline pilots are rarely required to use).
- As a result of the above, MIT/Sloan research finds that significant turnover of the executive team is a positive predictor of success
- Successful leaders understand that leading transformation is their most important job and can’t be delegated. As a result, they find ways to be present “on the shop floor” and communicate with employees and stakeholders through dialogue…not just top down presentations.
And perhaps most importantly, successful leaders understand that they themselves must change if the organization is to succeed.
- They focus on changing old mindsets that are no longer adequate for the challenge
- They look inward to understand their habits of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that are barriers to acting in new and more effective ways