Imagine your company has set an ambitious aspiration and conducted an assessment of the organization’s performance—what an enterprise does to deliver improved results for its stakeholders in financial and operational terms—and health—how effectively an organization works together in pursuit of its performance aspirations.
So how do you use these insights to mobilize the whole enterprise, from senior management to frontline employees? As the chief human resources officer (CHRO) of a leading heavy goods manufacturer summed it up: “How can we change how the organization does things, and how do we get the rest of the executive team to buy in?”
Building consensus on priorities is critical to the success of a transformation. Executives who select initiatives that aren’t well aligned with their aspiration could quickly see the transformation run aground. However, making the right choices can generate significant benefits. Research from McKinsey found that senior leadership teams that align on their change story and share it with the organization can increase the odds of the transformation’s success six times over.
Build conviction around your organization’s transformation
In our experience, companies can take three steps to align on priorities and translate them into a focused, coherent transformation plan and change story.
- Gain a shared sense of priorities
Many organizations regularly measure performance. However, an assessment of organizational health provides senior management with a quantitative and qualitative fact based on how effectively an organization is functioning vis-à-vis its performance aspiration. The CHRO noted, “Once we got the data, it was key for our leadership team to fully understand the results.”
Leadership should facilitate an open discussion among executives on which priority practices—the six to ten management practices that matter most given the strategic context—can improve the organization’s performance and health.
- Engage leadership
In developing an implementation plan, senior leadership must bring managers into the process. This collaboration can take place through multiple action-planning workshops, which introduce the enterprise-wide performance and health aspiration, identify critical behavior and mind-set shifts for each priority practice, and create action plans that include owners, next steps, and timelines. Leaders need to gain a detailed understanding of the priorities as well as the corresponding mind-set and behavioral shifts, since they will be responsible for role-modeling them.
These workshops—and what happens outside of them to build on the momentum of the transformation—enable executives and managers to weigh in on critical implementation decisions, such as how goals and messages will be cascaded through the organization, timing, leadership roles, the cadence of meetings, accountability, and communication.
- Craft the change narrative
According to Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner, “Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” Stories take on added importance in a performance transformation, since they are a critical mechanism to inspire the workforce and create a shared sense of purpose. The best change stories provide all workers with an understanding of how their work relates to the organization’s overall vision.
A storyteller’s passion for and connection to the change story are essential to building momentum for a transformation. By involving a broader group of leaders in the process of crafting a change narrative, companies are essentially creating a “band and choir” that can communicate and amplify the change story at scale.
The previously mentioned heavy goods manufacturer followed these three steps and saw an immediate impact: top-level managers became more engaged and confident in emphasizing culture and behaviors to frontline employees. The action planning and implementation allowed the company to move from the bottom to the second quartile on organizational effectiveness within two years. This progress was accompanied by increased sales growth, better financial performance, and fewer safety incidents.
For more on leading successful large-scale change programs see the book, Beyond Performance 2.0