President Obama made it clear during the recent election campaign that voting for Hillary Clinton was in effect a vote to secure his legacy. Now that the election has gone the other way, he and indeed the country are left to watch how that legacy plays out. What will be cast away and what maintained?
At work, this happens all the time. Leaders make changes in their organizations and then move on to other jobs, other companies, or retire. How does one go about securing his or her legacy? How do you make changes in the organization stick?
The first thing to point out here is that you cannot make everything stick, no matter what you do. In fact, a key aspect of changing leadership is to get a fresh take on the way things are done. As you move on to a new role or job, you should try to let go of the old one and leave your replacement to sort things out. Of course you will have some sort of handover process during which you provide your perspective and try to point out the most critical aspects of the job. You may also offer your ongoing counsel to your replacement, but as time goes on this is less likely to be used.
So, assuming that you probably have made some truly important and valuable changes in your organization that you want to see remain, how can you best see this done?
The best way to preserve your legacy of change is to embed the changes in the organization through structures, processes and belief systems. In addition, the methodology for embedding should be planned early in the change process, not at the end. Lets discuss each of these concepts in turn.
I will start with belief systems, as this is the overall key to success. Start by laying out a rational case for the change in a simple, clear and concise manner, beginning with your leadership team and cascading throughout the organization. It helps if there is an urgency to the situation, such as one created by a significant and pressing change in business conditions and evident in company results or projections.
However, in any significant change process the emotional always overtakes the rational, so your management team and your process must address employees concerns about how the change will affect their jobs. You must find the inspiring and positive aspects of the change and paint a better future for people in order to engage them. If you are able to access the hearts and minds of people along the way, that will leave a small army of change agents who are determined to secure the change in the organization as long as they are there.
You may also find some people along the way who are determined to fight or undermine the change, and you may need to deal with these folks through counselling or redeployment. However, you should do so only after ensuring that their reasons for objecting to the change are understood and dealt with accordingly. They may be saying what others are thinking, and their concerns may indeed be valid and important.
Embedding a change also requires modifying everyday processes. For example, you may institute a new system or workflow which supports the change. Once instituted, systems are difficult and resource-intensive to change.
You should establish new metrics and goals that support the change and ensure that these metrics are communicated broadly to your organization, supervisor and management team, and other parts of the company. Depending on the nature of the change, you may want to communicate with suppliers or customers as well. Be sure to incorporate the progress against goals in regular communications to the organization. It is especially helpful to highlight specific success stories and to praise individual or group accomplishments. Adoption of the change and accompanying business improvement should be part of regular performance reviews and, to the extent possible, built into company reward mechanisms and promotion decisions. Functional departments such as human resources, legal and finance can be great allies in your change process, too.
Finally, consider how changes in your company or organization structure can support and embed the change. For example, if your change involved globalizing what was formerly regional, then consider establishing global rather than regional structures. If your change involved better alignment between two previously warring departments, consider putting these organizations under a single department head.
You will need to work with other functions within your organization to examine how the change will affect interfaces. You may want to establish new committees and meetings to oversee the way the change is going and provide an opportunity for important issues to be raised and addressed. You may need to eliminate other committees or structures that are inconsistent with the new direction. Be sure to address decision making and authority guidelines that support the new ways of working.
It is important to consider the embedding philosophy early in the change process. Think through the design of a new organization structure, new IT systems or new workflows at the start so that sequencing of the changes can be best orchestrated. Lay out in advance the personnel decisions related to leadership and execution of the project, as well as future leadership in the new structure. This will help to ensure the best execution of the change as well as provide motivation for those who will have positions in the new organization. Forethought will also greatly help if the change involves reduction of personnel, as perhaps some of the people can be redeployed elsewhere in the organization as attrition occurs.
Embedding changes in the hearts and minds of your colleagues, and through supporting structures and processes, will help to sustain them after you have moved on.
Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at email@example.com or phone (908) 400-5210.