Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dear Leaders, You Have To Change Too!

Last week I had a series of interviews with executives from a company which manufactures cancer treatment equipment.
What stood out were two things:
1.    Leaders are not open for personal change.
2.    The new ways of doing business were totally unknown: old practices were the norm.

Unfortunately these issues are very widespread. ‘Unfortunately’ because that heavily impacts the culture and the enthusiasm in an organization as well as its (lack of) competitiveness.

Ad 1 Leaders are not open for personal change.
In 2009 McKinsey published an excellent article: The irrational side of change  management.
Most senior executives understand and generally buy into Ghandi’s famous aphorism, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” They commit themselves to personally role modeling the desired behaviors. And then, in practice, nothing significant changes.

The reason for this is that most executives don’t count themselves among the ones who need to change. How many executives when asked privately will say no to the question, “Are you customer focused?” and yes to the question “Are you a bureaucrat?” Of course, none. The fact is that human beings consistently think they are better than they are—a phenomenon referred to in psychology as a self-serving bias. Consider that 94 percent of men rank themselves in the top half according to male athletic ability. Whereas conventional change-management approaches surmise that top team role modeling is a matter of will or skill, the truth is that the real bottleneck to role modeling is knowing what to change at a personal level.

So, these leaders say that their employees have to change. And if they don’t change fast enough, “they will be fired”. This creates an atmosphere of fear on one hand and a ‘them versus us’ mentality on the other.

There is so much benefit in accepting that you as a leader can and have to change as well. E.g. most leaders have no work-life balance, which negatively impacts their mental, physical and emotional health as well as their families. Even understanding that changing your behaviors is not easy, will positively impacts their perspective on the need for changing employees.

By showing your own commitment to change, you are truly an example, which will be followed.

Ad 2. The new ways of doing business were totally unknown: old practices were the norm.
This proves that we all are creatures of habit and that they (leaders as well as employees) are not willing to get out of our comfort zones. Even a culture is described as ‘ the way we do things around here’.

And that is exactly the core of the problem!!  The circumstances in the outer world are changing faster and faster, but inside we keep on doing business in the traditional, way. These practices are  often ten, twenty, or even thirty years old.
Examples which surfaced during those interviews: R&D never heard about design thinking or open innovation. Sales had no affinity with social media. The culture was solely owned by HR. The CEO had no clear mission, vision and values. The COO wants his direct reports to be available for his calls 7 days/24 hours.

So, it is just a matter of time when the s.h.i.t. will hit the fan. And then the number one solution is to cut costs and lay off employees. This is very sad and a huge waste of resources.

Also here the starting point for change is the acceptance that you (the leader!) can learn something new. For many professions (doctors, lawyers) is is mandatory to follow regularly courses to stay up to date to the latest knowledge and practices.

Wouldn’t it be great (and really necessary!) if business leaders are yearly confronted with these new ways of doing business as well?

So, Dear Leader, when will you look honestly into the miror and start changing yourself??


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