Leaders and sponsors need to be seen and committed to business change or transformation. If they’re not, then any transformation effort will fail.
Unfortunately, many companies get only lip service from leaders rather than long-term commitment to change. Typically businesses build strategic plans that highlights the need for a digital transformation. Unfortunately this is not fleshed out on what this entails.
Transformation is usually a long process and one that takes commitment and dedication.
Pushback from managers and employees trying to maintain the status quo can be the norm.
The status quo – the existing business model or operating model and efforts to sustain it – represents the most formidable obstacle in your company’s path to digital transformation.
The status quo locks people into their current behaviours and prevents them from moving quickly and acting on change. It’s a web of constraints known as “the way things are done around here,” which reinforces behaviors. A host of factors, such as organizational philosophies and policies and individual incentives, complicate that web.
What causes leaders to just talk of change, rather than committing to change?
Usually transformation is a multi-year journey and many details are unknown at the outset.
Any transformation initiative starts with a strategic intent based on a vision of the desired performance – a sense of where the company is heading in creating new value for customers and ecosystem partners and creating new competitive positioning.
Part of the problem that leads to leaders’ lip service is that any transformation, and particularly a digital transformation is unknown at the outset. You will know the direction your company wants to head, yet not know precisely where it will land, how long it will take to get there, how much it will cost, or what resources the journey will require.
Therefore, it’s not unusual for leaders to have different reasons for “agreeing” to the change but different visions of the end state. The reality is they commit to what they think the future will be, based on their own experience.
How can you recognise leaders that are paying lip service instead of real commitment to change?
You can recognise leaders that are paying lip service instead of real commitment to change as the journey progresses. Basically, they slow down progress or are merely compliant instead of engaged. Typical lip-service behaviors include:
- Talking about the problems the company will face or saying that taking action will be too risky or too expensive.
- Asking, “Can’t I do it just a little differently?” or “Can we just make this adjustment?” (to something more comfortable to the individual).
Should the direction be changed?
Making small tradeoffs to placate a senior leader is a big mistake. Bowing to the individual’s demands will cause the initiative to veer off-course and likely will sub-optimize the intended outcome.
Beliefs at the heart of resistance and lip service are based on human emotions. Some of the biggest motivating beliefs are:
- Fear. Uncertainty breeds fear, and the unknown details at the outset of a digital transformation journey cause some people to cling to the familiar instead of being willing to change.
- Risk of loss. The “what’s in it for me” principle is at work here, as some executives may stand to benefit from the change, but others may stand to lose. Similarly, some employees will lose their jobs when the company automates processes.
- Past orientation. Some executives do not want to commit to the necessary operating model change because they believe the company’s current model and value delivered will continue to be successful. Others may believe the change isn’t necessary because they’ve seen disruption in the past and some companies weathered it just fine. They lack a future-orientation perspective and don’t recognize the existential threat to the business today.
How to get real commitment instead of lip service
The best approach to getting leaders’ and stakeholders’ long-term commitment is to go slowly at first. Spend time at the beginning building belief and long-term commitment to the strategic intent at all levels of the organization. Before your company makes major investments in technology and starts adjusting your company’s structure and ecosystem, it’s important to ensure that managers and employees at every level in the organization:
- Understand and buy into why the change is necessary
- Understand the benefits of the change
- Understand that the change is possible to achieve and how it will be achieved
- Accept personal ownership for the change
Spending time up front to build belief in the necessary change will alter their mindset from “Here’s why we can’t do that” to “Here’s how we can do it.” It will dramatically improve the chances for success.
It’s also important to continue engaging with leaders, stakeholders, and employees throughout the journey, not just up front to gain initial buy-in. Let them know that what they do matters to the organization. Yes, it takes time to do this, but engaging them appropriately in the change – instead of imposing change on them – will cause them to want to participate in the change.
Finally, make it clear that everyone must get on board. Your company must be willing to eliminate people who refuse to act in alignment with the agreed-upon strategic intent.