5 steps for a leader to bring about organizational change

Bring about organizational change

Bring about organizational change

This post continues with leadership and how to bring about organizational change.  Last week’s story dwelt on introducing a small change in the team or the environment, leading to a leadership quick-win.  Such a quick-win establishes credibility, helps the team taste success and instills confidence in the team that bigger challenges can be mounted.

As a leader, there are some important points to be kept in mind while pursuing the bigger challenge of overhauling the deep-rooted practices, habits and culture. 

It will take time

Know that introduction, implementation and finally acceptance of change will take time.  In most cases the change will be imperceptible and not measurable.  You will have to keep looking for signs and other non-obvious indications that change is happening.

Quick-wins are just that – quick – and if you can find a way to string together multiple effective quick-wins, then you may speed up the change a bit and also introduce excitement in the team.  However, finding such tasks which help secure quick wins and which are aligned to the overall strategy could be very difficult and dependent on the circumstances.

Root-cause analysis

Needless to say, the leader needs to talk to all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, other executives, auditors, etc. to find out as much as possible about what is working and what is not.  Only after analyzing all available information and identifying the root-cause or causes, should a strategy be formulated.  It is very easy (and quick) to find the right answer to the wrong question.  This will only treat the symptom, not cure the disease.

Have confidence in your strategy

Once you define your strategy and chalk out the execution, you have to stay the course.  This requires great determination, strength and support from those around you.   An exhaustive root-cause analysis helps build confidence in the chosen strategy.

In cases where the team or a company is in distress and the leader is managing a turnaround, it becomes even more difficult and stressful to carry out the plan.  Experience counts and the effective leader will have to draw on her experience a lot.

Engage the people

No change is possible without the involvement and buy-in of the people involved.  Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” provides some great examples of how changes have been fostered.  For the effective leader contemplating change, this is a great book to read and follow.  In the book, Gladwell also talks about three types of people that can help to bring about change.  The identification and selective engagement of people to bring about sweeping, long-term change is a topic for my next post.


Communication must be timely, clear, honest, and transparent.  Important communication must come from the top dog.  I know of major corporations where the CEO speaks in person in one site, but also televises the same message to other sites at the same time.  This is to prevent a time lag and for people to assume things and rumor-mongers to get into the act.

Clear, timely and direct communication becomes critical in cases where employees or team members will be expected to play a different role, take on more responsibilities or even be laid off.

In some cases symbolic communication is highly effective.  I remember a European company that was suffering great losses and brought in a new CEO.  One of the first things the CEO did was to invest about $10 million of his own money into the company’s shares.  In no uncertain terms this displayed not only the faith the CEO had in the company itself, but also in his own ability to turn the fortunes of the company around.  The effective leader should look for such opportunities.

Related readings:

On this highly interesting topic of cultural change, I found some very informative articles and their links are provided below:

Garrett’s change management – excellent article containing ten steps on how to go about bringing change management.


“We behave based on the reality around us” from an hbr blog with examples from Hyundai and the Roman Catholic Church:


Six roles of a leader during change:


In his blog, Martin Davis talks about communicating a coherent change management strategy:


Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier presents a detailed note on the role of leaders in responding to change with agility.


Image: (c) commons.wikimedia.org; author:  Jastrow