I’ve been writing a series of blogs geared toward leaders – particularly CEOs – about how to make transformation meaningful for an organization. In the last couple of blogs, I’ve written that leadership teams must have conviction in their strategy and become active advocates for that strategy to come to fruition. I’ve also talked about what a high-performance operations team should look like – it’s probably not exactly what you think. Today, I wanted to spend some time looking at one of the biggest mistakes that organizations make when they’re trying to initiate a transformation in the business.

The most common thing leaders do is jump to the conclusion that if the business isn’t performing as it should – “we must have the wrong people or the wrong management team in place” – and they initiate a structure change. The reality is that structure change is a poor surrogate for clarity, alignment, decision rights, accountability and relentless leadership rigor, and execution.

First and foremost, leaders need to continue to create clarity and alignment across the leadership team and the rest of the business when they see there are challenges with the existing strategy or execution process. So what does that mean exactly – getting clear and aligned? Alignment is about creating so much clarity there is little room for confusion, disorder, infighting, and other distractions to set in. It enables unprecedented accountability and leadership rigor, which can alter structure considerations wrongly driven by talent concerns, lack of alignment, ineffective management, unaddressed people issues, and inconsistent accountability.

That’s not to say that there should never be structural changes made. They’re just best made when they support a new path once the strategic direction, role clarity, execution rigor, alignment, and accountability issues have been decided. In a nutshell – form follows function. The often well-intended desire to act with speed must be tempered with a long view of 18 months for phase one of transformative change. A few critical decisions here and there won’t get the job done. It is also important to remember that you are creating the collective capability for people to think and act differently. This happens throughout the process of building a new, disciplined culture where clarity, alignment, engagement, and advocacy drive change and results.

Very often, leaders take short cuts like:

  • compensation – the belief that you can use pay to get people to change
  • people moves – our problem is we just need to change a person or two out and we’ll be done
  • structure – we’ll just change the boxes and reporting lines even before we know what changes would best support the future business

The reality is – if we want a culture of execution, we need to model “plan,” “do,” “check,” and “act” and not “ready, fire, aim, restructure.”

Be honest, is this something you’re guilty of? Are there any learning’s you made along the way you would add?


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August 8, 2012