The Key to Transformational Change

All too often, companies develop a bold strategy for change but neglect the human side of the effort—work that will produce the new, smart behavior that’s needed throughout the organization.

As a result, they risk missing out on gaining traction with what otherwise might have been a successful shift in the direction the company is headed. When that happens, it’s often the CEO’s fault. When it comes to transformational change, it falls on CEOs to design and communicate it—and then to align their senior leadership teams around the impending journey. The secret ingredients of a successful transformation are senior-level buy-in on the new strategy or business model and ensuring that top teams have the tools needed to make the change cascade and accelerate downward.

“A unified team of senior leaders can make all the difference in a transformation effort.”

We’ve worked with a Midwestern industrial services company as it carried out a merger and simultaneously embarked on a path to become an organization known for its great talent and effectiveness. The CEO was a charismatic and compelling leader who took three steps to begin the company’s transformation: He made sure senior leadership was aligned around the change program, he developed a rigorous infrastructure to manage the progress, and he engaged with employees throughout the organization via face-to-face workshops and training seminars. In other words, the CEO went to great lengths to ensure that new behaviors transcended old ways of doing things.

“This CEO focused on aligning the top team around the program, because he knew that one executive’s disagreement could potentially become exaggerated downward throughout the organization,” says RHR Senior Partner David Astorino.

Indeed, this company’s experience underscores that an organization’s senior leadership team is like a microcosm of the company as a whole. Each executive brings different biases, different
agendas and different personal and professional histories to the table. But when aligned, the top team can become the driving agent for accelerated change throughout the organization. And that is how transformation takes place.

A unified team of senior leaders can make all the difference in a transformation effort, and it is the CEO’s role to secure that alignment—to engage the top team to come together, to discuss
the process, to discover the points of agreement and resistance and to ensure they speak with one voice in pursuing change. The senior team is the bridge between a CEO’s vision and the rest of the organization—they often act as the ingredient necessary to turbo-charge transformational change.

Beyond aligning the leadership team, what are the mandates for CEOs as they prepare for change? They must negate resistance, break down the status quo, and implement new and transformational ways of leading and working. More specifically, CEOs must demonstrate powerfully the real, tangible belief they hold for their visions of the future. Without an evangelical passion for the direction in which you want to take your company, you’re not likely to convince anyone else it’s a good idea. CEOs must also engage meaningfully and genuinely with their organizations.

To succeed, they need to get out there and do the hard work of taking their messages directly to the managers and employees who will be on the front lines of making a vision a reality. For
example, during our client’s transition, the CEO organized a series of 70 “roadshows” around the country in which he explained and brought to life his vision.

A CEO’s contagious passion and a highly aligned leadership team are the most important tools a CEO has when it comes to implementing profound and transformational change.

This article is taken from the November/December 2015 issue of Chief Executive magazine, on page 18. To subscribe to Chief Executive, click here

Dr. Thomas J. Saporito :Dr. Thomas J. Saporito (tsaporito@rhrinternational.com) is chairman and CEO of RHR International, a global firm committed to the development of top management leadership.