The series so far:
One of the fundamental Change Management principles is Leadership or Stakeholder Alignment. This principle plays an important part in implementing change across an organization, as it gathers buy-in from individuals across an organization from the top down.
As you learned in the previous article of this series, change management is the strategy used to prepare, implement, and continue change within an organization. In taking a deep dive into the Leadership Alignment piece of the change management puzzle, it is important to understand that organizational change can be different for each organization. For some, it could imply a merger or acquisition, while for others, it could mean lay-offs or even pay cuts impacting the organization’s workforce. While these are more common examples of organizational change, one often overlooked is the implementation of new technology.
C-Level executives are known for their involvement in mergers and acquisitions or workforce shake-ups, but they usually leave the technological development within their organizations to middle-management. This took a shift in the 2010s, as more and more companies realized the onset of the Digital Revolution and began to create roles for CTOs or Chief Technology Officers. Despite this welcome change, many of the change management activities needed during a technological implementation are often ignored even by some of the most forward-thinking organizations. The fundamental problem these companies often face is a lack of Leadership Alignment behind a technological shift.
One of the first things to consider when dealing with change, is the audience impacted by the change. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about an org structure is usually a vertical hierarchy – It is extremely important to understand the decision makers within an organization, where the impacted users sit, and the leadership teams they sit within. What is often ignored however, is the horizontal hierarchy.
This horizontal hierarchy is often where budgets, decisions, and communications are driven from. Having alignment across these different levels ensures success in a change program. All too often, there is unity of thought when it comes to implementing a change but a lack of understanding or alignment in the intricacies of what will be needed to make that change stick. Leadership alignment is key in championing the change and supporting the change management strategy that accompanies the change and how the organization will adapt – be it through communication, training, or other forms of change management support.
In addition to the horizontal-alignment mentioned above, sponsorship from executive leadership is also imperative when implementing change. Having an executive sponsor as part of a change program helps drive visibility and alignment across all levels of an organization. Common practices around executive sponsorship include communication efforts driven by executives. These communication efforts include emails, newsletters, videos, internal product launches, happy hours, or lunch-and-learns. Having an executive sponsor as the face of these initiatives shows top-down alignment on change efforts and ensures support for the change and also for the adoption strategy, which in turn builds confidence across the organization.
A change strategy establishes the importance of leadership alignment, communication, and training. These are some of the key pillars of a successful change strategy but what is more important is to address the “What’s in it for me?”
It is important to understand what drives motivates end users, decision makers, and executive sponsors. Understanding the pain points across these different areas of an organization is critical in winning confidence and fostering adoption.
Depending on the engagement and the change being implemented, pain points can be approached from either a bottom-up, or a top-down approach.
Working from the bottom-up, an engagement would usually start at the level of the end user. New technology is often implemented to make an end user more efficient or productive. This impacts all levels of the hierarchy above and around the end user because the bottom line, in terms of profitability and productivity, is often tied to the success of the end user.
Another way to look at this is the top-down approach, which analyzes a change that starts at the executive level. Much of the reasoning for the change could be the same as it would be in a bottom-up approach (budgets, productivity, efficiency), but the way it is handled differs. In this approach, the decisions are usually made at the C-level, and regardless of the type of change in question, be it a change in org structure or business processes, the impacts of the change often trickle down across the organization. It is important to check the pulse of the organization at various stages of the change to ensure that regardless of the approach, the pain points are being addressed organization-wide.
A great way to drive change across an organization is through sponsorship. Assigning sponsors across an organization, within different business units, regions, and job levels is a great way to raise awareness about change. This approach also establishes a sense of responsibility among the sponsors, who now have a vested interest in the program’s success. This network of sponsors should be engaged early and often, allowing them to be in sync with what changes are coming, and give individuals in different parts of the organization a point of contact for feedback and concerns that may arise as part of the impending change.
At the end of the day, the purpose of leadership alignment is to ensure buy-in from leaders. All the pieces mentioned in this article, be it the understanding of an org structure, identification of top-down leadership, addressing their pain points, or establishing sponsors across the organization, are the building blocks needed for buy-in. Organizational change relies on this buy-in, as change becomes easier to foster if there is an alignment across the organization.
With buy-in and leadership alignment, the very next step in the change journey is communication. Leaders and sponsors identified through this process can help develop a communication strategy. This strategy can outline the basics, including what sort of communication is sent, who is the audience, how often communication should occur, and who should send out the communication. Establishing a communication plan empowers business leaders to rally the organization behind the change, and the next article will dive deeper into the best practices in establishing a communication strategy.