McKinsey Quarterly (04/12) De Smet, Aaron; Lavoie, Johanne; Hioe, Elizabeth Schwartz
Senior executives frequently overlook “softer” skills that their leaders require to successfully effect and entrench organizational change, such as the ability to maintain managers and employees’ inspiration when they feel swamped, promoting collaboration across organizational silos, or assisting managers in the adoption of change programs via communication rather than dictation. By making leadership development the core of a major operational improvement effort, one global industrial company addressed these myriad challenges. Realizing the goal of creating a single global sourcing system instead of depending on the existing hodgepodge of regional and divisional systems entailed interaction with a global group of stakeholders, many of whom favored acting independently. An executive understood that she had to engage the stakeholders emotionally as well as intellectually so they would buy into the new approach and realize why it was an improvement, and she worked on leadership skills that included keeping discussions focused on solutions, building on existing strengths to surmount opposition, and developing coaching vignettes to help her better perceive the mindsets and behaviors in need of change. Employees’ adoption of the new system led to the encouragement of interpersonal interactions that helped some workers overcome persistent obstacles to collaboration, and improved collaboration led to an increase in cost savings for the company. In another example, a plant manager faced the challenge of raising yields using the company’s new production system. The manager adopted a collaborative approach that had to overcome workers’ distrust of the management team. The result was more openness and transparency, with the end result being higher yields. Among the lessons such examples provide for organizations is the need to link leadership training to business objectives, build on strengths, guarantee senior-executive sponsorship for training participants, and generate networks of change leaders.
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