After a couple of years of chaotic behavior on the part of the top management of Uber, it has a new CEO who is now working hard to clean things up and to set a direction for the company. His primary area of focus is understanding what the customer base thinks should be improved, and then developing plans to drive the appropriate changes.
The fact is organizations don’t survive without the ability to regularly drive significant changes needed to improve and to seize opportunities. A few years ago, researchers at Harvard Business School investigated why change initiatives tend to get bogged down and don’t succeed. Their conclusions were based on extensive interviews with corporate leaders over many years. Here are the three biggest traps and how to deal with them:
1.) Overcome Caution with Clear Accountability – In most cases, change requires middle-level managers in many parts of the organization to execute the implementation plans. Unfortunately, those managers tend to be excessively cautious; they protect their current areas of responsibility and put a lower priority on any extra effort required of them.
At the outset, successful transformations require the leader to spell out to everyone in the organization the details of the move from the current state to the desired state. The leader must decide the major steps and deliverables and who within the organization will be held accountable to achieve these steps. It needs to be made clear that performance will impact performance appraisals.
2.) Recalcitrant Employees Must be Dealt With – If there is a manager who is responsible for a key part of the change, but that individual is constantly argumentative and reluctant to make a strong commitment to the effort, the person needs to be removed. Naturally, the leader needs to listen to any and all issues that people raise, but once proper modifications have been made to reflect this input, it is imperative to have committed individuals executing the plan.
3.) Overcome Initiative Gridlock with Clear Focus – Leaders need to be aware that they can easily overload the organization with too many changes. Initiative gridlock, where so many projects are active that resources get fragmented and everything bogs down, is the result when the leader lacks the insight and courage to discontinue, or never start, efforts that are not of the highest priority. Often the leader is reluctant to cancel a project or to turn down yet another proposed initiative for fear that he or she is making a mistake or missing an opportunity.
These are things that all of us know, but experience shows they are hard to implement. Strong leaders understand that.