Matters Column

Addressing and making change of leadership in business

December 21, 2018
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In just about any organization, there comes a time when the discussion begins to focus on a change of leadership. It usually begins to surface when someone or a small group perceives that things can and should go differently. Differently is often a nice way to say things need to get better — but not always.

In some instances, there are individuals who can look at a situation and see that things are going all right at the moment, but they are perceptive enough to see that things will change, and steps need to be taken before things start to go off track. Figuring out the circumstances and looking for the best methodology to make the change happen is not an easy task in many circumstances. We also need to look at the position in question and where it sits in the organization.

The function of the position is clearly instrumental in working through the transition. Usually, the higher the position, the greater the impact when the change occurs. But in some instances, it’s more than just the position. It can often be a function of the individual’s status and influence, or personal charisma.

When some of these factors come into play, the analysis of what needs to be considered gets a bit murkier and complex. Those making the decision may need to understand the ripple effect that may be generated when the change takes place or when others perceive how the change will affect the focus of their activities, in good or bad ways. The most critical aspect of leadership change is the reason it is needed and the processes utilized in making the transition.

Reason for change

Going back to the need for change begins with the nature of the organization, its objectives and its operational practices. Each organization has a reason for being. Most fall into two categories or variations of the two: Make money (a business) or provide select services (government or a not-for-profit agency).

In all cases, the organization gets set up based on the defined intent, shaped by the events at the time of inception. In a few instances, there will be a consideration of looking down the road and recognizing what must be necessary to operate effectively under perceived future conditions, but not very often.

It is limited perception that causes the problems associated with change. When the founding organizer(s) sets things in motion, there are so many things to do that they often take the position that only the most immediate issues will get attention and the other things will just have to wait. To a great extent, this makes sense. When the fires are burning, you can’t ignore them. Unfortunately, addressing only those things that are right in front of you often becomes modus operandi, and other important items are not addressed. These other things often become the factors that cause the organization to need change.

In simple terms, the world is always changing. Organizations do not exist in a vacuum. In order to meet their objectives, they have to operate based on the environment of the present. This requires continual adaptation. Those who fail to evolve eventually just fail. To evolve is another way to say change incrementally. When change is not incremental, it becomes disruptive. Sometimes it’s mild and sometimes it’s chaotic. The key is to avoid the chaos.

How to address change

The start of dealing with change is to begin to put in processes that provide on-going information regarding events that can impact your organization. This, of course, can be a very wide-ranging activity. However, with a little focus, it becomes a little more manageable.

Without going into all the specifics, it can cover issues such as the thinking or reactions of your client base, what regulations affect your activities, what tools and knowledge are essential to your goods and services, and the people who do the organization’s work. Getting a good handle on how all these areas are impacting your organization and what changes are on the horizon is critical. Associated with this information gathering effort is keeping an open mind about what you are learning.

When leadership of an organization believes it knows all the answers and surrounds itself with only the people or information channels that re-enforce their own beliefs, they are in trouble. They will undoubtedly be blindsided and placed in a position of catch-up in order to overcome the new and unexpected factor in their operating environment. There will always be someone out there who will only be too happy to take advantage of your tunnel vision.

Keeping a handle on what influences your operations, now and in the future, can allow you to make adjustments on a timely basis. They can also be adjustments that when thought out can be pre-emptive and viewed as leading edge instead of reactionary.

As we discuss these various practices, we should be careful to not get hung up on the concept that the noted points only apply to those at the top of the organization. They apply to all people of leadership, regardless of the scope of their authority. The principal difference is the amount of authority you have and the complexity to implement the appropriate changes.

Making the change

Knowing that something must be done is only the first step. That knowing process is often not as clear-cut as we would like it. Sometimes it is a vague feeling that “things” are just not right or are heading in a direction that seems undesirable. It may be necessary to get others involved to help sort out what is going on. A process that has some order to it allows more people to contribute and facilitate the desired outcomes. Otherwise, you have many people who are taking a shotgun methodology hoping to hit the target and more likely taking out some of the participants by accident.

Perhaps it is important at this point to come back to how the necessary changes are made. It may be obvious, but it needs to be said that change only happens through the efforts of people — in the conceptualization/design phase, the planning and in the implementation stages.

Getting the right people with the mentality and the skills to carry out the jobs doesn’t happen by chance very often but by good planning and decision-making. There also is one more important action in this process. Sometimes you have to give the reins and the authority to others and be willing to get out of the way in a timely fashion so they can do the job that is necessary. This is called succession planning, and the results sure beat saying, “you’re fired” or being impeached.

Ardon Schambers is president and principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.

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