We all know the importance of top management drive when changes are to be done in an organization. Often good initiatives dies as the attention from top management was zero to nothing. With this knowledge a lot of internal entrepreneurs, who sees possibilities to make a change, address top management to seek their support for changes. Some does this because they have really good solutions to a problem or fantastic ideas to grab possibilities not yet explored. At the same time some change apostles may do this only based on their need to support their career getting good air time with top management.
Being a top manager you have to be strong and show leadership. Threats to the business or opportunities for major improvements has to be taken serious. With you power and authorities you are the one who can make great improvements. Unfortunately your position also enable you to make great failures and leave you with your pants down.
I have over the years’ experienced great successes and fantastic failures from top managers. Some of the failures could have been prevented. In some cases a short stop and reflection in an early phase of the change project would have hindered bad things to come.
Before you continue with your change initiative, make sure you are not doing any of the below mistakes.
Start change project based on proposed solution.
Often employees have lot of good ideas and most often good changes comes from people doing the actual work. But if a create a list purely based on general proposals and rank those based on number of similar suggestions, power of the proposer, political correctness, etc. there will be a long list of proposals. Most would probably not related to real problems or possibilities. The majority of the proposals will rather related to personal ambitions and vague ideas about change needs.
What you should do: Start with a problem formulation before you define the solution.
Set up a structured program to drive change projects, without strategic aims.
It is very good to create a structure around change projects, to gather them into a change program and create plans, reports and decision forums. But if there is no strategic aim with the change programs, if they are loosely connected and have vague objectives, no project structure can make them successful. Unfortunately there is a tendency to compensate vague strategies with additional reporting and project documentations. You can be sure that this is the case if progress is purely related to plans written, meetings held, changed objectives, delays in deliverables and in the end no tangible effects on business.
What you should do: As a top manager, you should be interested in plans that shows tangible deliverables and support achievements of effects. Program structure shall support projects, decision making and top management need for information. Do not try to solve a bad program with more reporting requests.
Use management authority to force latest management trend into the organization.
It is too often seen that managers force bad changes to organizations. Sometimes managers are convinced that a change done in another organization will as well improve this organization if it gets implemented the same way. Sometimes forced changes are based on strong push for change from a group of experts or leaders. Doing what they propose can be the simple way forward for the manager, showing power. The most treacherous thing with any change is that it often creates short term positive results just because it is viewed as positive (this is called the Hawthorne effect). It can then be understood as the change has been successful, but after some months the problem is back. Top manager may then believe that the change was correct, but people need to be pushed.
What you should do: Put top management pressure to secure the following; Agree on the problem, analyze possible solutions, agree on the solution to implement, add measures to monitor progress and agree how to judge when the problem is fixed.
Delegate ownership of strategic change projects.
Strategic change project often impacts several parts of the organization. There is a constant need to keep focus and align the organization on the changes needed. If top management delegates ownership to someone else, and stop showing interest in the change project it will immediate open for politics, conflicting activities, obstructive behavior, etc.
What you should do: If the change project is strategic and impacts more than one organization entity, today or in the future, stay as owner of the project. If you have too much to do to make this commitment, you have to value the importance of the change towards other tasks you have. Either stop the change project or stop another of your tasks.
Make clear that negative status report is a sign of failure.
Change projects are seldom simple. Plans, progress and results are most often hard to predict. Changes has to be done during execution. If changes shows up to become negative for the organization, stop the project or make drastically changes as soon as possible. Change projects are as well learning opportunities, for top management, for change project members and for the organization. Learnings comes from both successes and failures. If top management does not understand above and believe push for results is the only thing that enables success, they may introduce a culture of hiding bad information. Sometimes managers as well punish leaders that presents status and results in change projects that are not as originally planned. These managers may create a culture of denial. This is devastating for changes and learning in any organization.
What you should do: Foster a culture where changes to plans, that cannot be corrected by project team within given authorities, immediately is reported to project owner for support. Active control and steering towards end result is supported, failure may happen. Push for learning and sharing of experience, good or bad.