Transformational Change: The Power of Shared Responsibility

By Mark Schroffel

The power of shared responsibility

For me, strategic planning and transformational change go hand-in-hand. Shifting gear from good to great (apologies to Jim Collins) requires reconciling many, varied and often conflicting value drivers as part of the process of developing a cohesive vision. For this, stakeholder engagement is key.

That’s why, for transformational change, I advocate the use of strategies that build ownership of the vision and shared responsibility for delivering on it. The only way to achieve this is to involve organisational members in shaping the vision and working out how it can be achieved. For the theorists amongst us, you might like to reflect on Shein’s model for organisational culture and leadership that emphasises the role of hidden beliefs and values in determining how an organisation deals with change.

So what are the viable tactics for leading the often complex aspect of transformation change?

1. Secure the early involvement of leaders and influencers

This obvious, yet often overlooked strategy is the best place to start. I think there is a temptation amongst organisation leaders to finalise their plans and to get things right before engaging others in the process. The problem with this is that transformation requires a reframing of the organisations underlying values and beliefs (see earlier reference the Shein). Messages from on high only address surface issues (just think about organisations that tell their employees what their values are). Instead, leaders need to have confidence in their ability to guide the organisation through the transformation. Their key role at this point is to influence and lead the development of a clear, viable and suitable vision for the organisation. We are talking about leadership here – not directorship.

2. Develop clear and cohesive messages

Being able to clearly articulate the what’s going on and why will help align leaders around the vision and provide them with something to anchor their communications to as they cascade the message throughout the organisation.

Of course, messages will need to be refined and new ones developed as the transformation progresses. Communications planning will need to support the emerging transformation focal points. Staying on top of the communication as the transformation matures is crucial, and it requires constant attention.

3. Govern the transformation

Kotter advocates building a powerful and guiding coalition (his Step 2 after creating a sense of urgency), and this is what you also need to do too. A transformation cannot be set in motion and left unattended – strong strategic leadership and guidance is required every step of the way.

The overall architecture of the transformation must be maintained as the vision is translated into lower level actions and interactions. You achieve this through a robust governance team (guiding coalition) who’s focus will be on compliance with the vision, consistency of messages and actions, and the efficient delivery of transformation components. A good governance model is one with a clear hierarchy of accountabilities (and decision rights), as well as channels to receive feedback and inputs from functional areas.

4. Take as many with you as you can

Not every one will jump on board with the transformation, and it’s something you will have to deal with; however, taking people with you is an important part of the transformation concept. In transformational change, your aim is to reach everybody. Taking into account the widest possible range of stakeholders helps to ensure the transformation is fully represented and therefor more likely to be accepted.

Stakeholder mapping is an essential exercise. It not only provides the basis for developing engagement and communication channels, it provides change agents with vital clues on what sub-groups and individuals care about most.

A final thought

The success of any transformation, at the most basic level, is dependent on those in which the organisation relies on to function. Sharing responsibility is a good way to engage people and it works to reshape their values and beliefs in how things can and need work.

Now consider this: Can you drive transformation or does it have to be led?

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