On December 8th, 1863, United States President, Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation formally called, the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The document, also known as the ten percent plan, was an effort to begin reconstruction and re-integration of the Southern states amidst the American Civil War.
Though the country would not end the war until 1865, this proclamation signaled a deliberate effort on Lincoln’s part to plant the seeds for reconciliation, restoration, and change for the country. We all know what tragically happened days after the surrender of the South in 1865 – Lincoln would be assassinated and wouldn’t have the opportunity to lead the complete transformation himself. However, the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction provided an excellent example of strong leadership through difficult change. While some disagreed with Lincoln’s approach, the proclamation sought to shorten the conflict and make it easier for change to occur. His ability to recognize the difficulty of the situation and the complicated emotions and circumstances of each state and citizen is a testament to the kind of leader he really was.
Success Depends on This One Thing
From the earliest records of mankind to the leaders of countries, corporations, and communities of today, people have looked to those in power to effectively lead through transition. Consider again Abraham Lincoln’s plight throughout the Civil War and in the days of its conclusion. A country that had been divided and experienced great loss at the hands of one another would need to come together again as one country – perhaps one of the greatest examples of true change management required.
Successful leaders are those who successfully lead through change. Change is inevitable and yet, many of us struggle to successfully embrace it. This resistance is no different and manifests itself on a grander scale when we consider the change that comes to every company, department, and team.
Though the concept of change management, and the theories based on it, became popular in the 1990s and 2000s, evidence of effective versus ineffective leadership through major change has always been apparent.
While it may seem a bit of a stretch, our task as executive leaders are no different than Lincoln’s was in the unification of a divided country. Our success as leaders will be judged by our ability to communicate, collaborate, and connect through ongoing change. Our overarching goals will often require the repeated transformation of processes, priorities, and opinions of those we are charged to lead.
An article published by Harvard Business Review addresses four key principles to successful change management initiatives and highlights what is ultimately necessary, “While other factors certainly exist that can affect the outcome, the leader’s role is primary. The leader’s ability to communicate relevant ideas, motivate team members, and be an inspiring role model throughout the change transformation can make or break its success; the leader literally bridges the gap between the organization and its desired outcome.”
Unfortunately, according to Deloitte Consulting, the majority of change initiatives in corporate America fail. Their conclusions underscore the fact that most approaches to managing and communicating change are all wrong. They assert that most companies and leaders do not:
- Motivate employees enough to sustain lasting change
- Sell the need to change in a way that connects to employees
- Create emotional triggers necessary to get “buy-in” from stakeholders and employees
If leaders can’t accomplish this, the future of their departments and corporations can become bleak. Ultimately, change is necessary for future growth and sustainability. Without strategic transformation, businesses can become obsolete. Consider companies that didn’t change and innovate as needed – Nokia, Kodak, Blockbuster, Toys ‘R’ Us, among many others. In each of these cases, change wasn’t embraced or introduced effectively within the organization in order to transition that change to consumers.
A Modern Case Study in Change Management
For all the companies that have failed, there are those that have succeeded under strong leadership. I often reflect on the success of my good friend, Lou Eccleston. When he took the helm of TMX in the fall of 2014, Lou observed an organization that was stuck in neutral and perceived as unresponsive to the needs of the marketplace. To strategically realign TMX, he knew that he needed to quickly get the attention of his employees.
“People are like pieces of human-direct mail,” he told me. “You have a few seconds to get their attention. If you open up with everything is great, that’s what they are going to hear. They stop listening right there.” Like a direct-mail campaign, he recognized the need to grab his colleagues’ attention quickly and follow with a captivating and memorable call to action.
To achieve his new objectives, Eccleston relied on his exceptional communication skills to achieve lasting cultural change. During the time he was with McGraw Hill Financial, he’d confronted similar challenges in his quest to drive brand value by collecting and integrating disparate assets. Although he had done this before, each situation has been different. When he moved to TMX, Lou called it “the transformational challenge of his life.”
With the need for 1,400 employees to develop a mind-set of growth, responsiveness, and transformation, he used effective communication to inspire, motivate and provoke change. “TMX is a great company and its people work hard, but the situation is urgent,” he told his team.
When Lou first arrived, he took the necessary time to thoroughly analyze the state of TMX’s culture and highlighted some key takeaways:
- People weren’t acknowledging that things were getting worse.
- Driven by their internal legacy, employees were locked in their old ways, inhibiting rapid response to the shifting financial industry landscape.
- They weren’t listening to clients; they were trying instead to sell them products they neither needed nor wanted.
Fundamental to Lou’s approach to transformation was his ability to ensure TMX employees were driven by market and client demands. They then needed to change the way they thought, behaved, and acted. He firmly acknowledged they had great operating skills but needed to do a better job of spearheading lasting change. In short, TMX employees needed to develop exceptional communication skills. Effective communication is a bridge by which you travel across and find worth. “We were good at advocating but bad at communicating,” he said. “There’s a big difference.”
Most regime changes in organizations of this size bring doubt and uncertainty—not, however, in a Lou Eccleston organization, which fosters candor and transparency. From his first day on the job, Lou firmly aligned words and actions. When asked about his leadership approach, his response was clear:
- I stand for simplicity—no hidden agendas
- I’ll listen to what you think, good or bad
- I may not always agree with you, but I am going to take action and explain my rationale
I’ve always admired Lou’s ability to set a positive tone despite enormous pressure to exceed expectations. He once told me, “If you don’t create urgency to change, people won’t. It has to bring out the positive, otherwise you won’t have any action.” To maximize impact, Lou always ended his speeches with a direct address to his audience. They always walked away confident but also feeling that sense of urgency to enact change.
His ability to communicate provoked TMX to think about the business contrary to the status quo. “It’s a different place than it used to be,” he recently told me. “You can’t stop changing if the clients are changing. You’re out of step. Consequently, we don’t have to be an exchange. From now on, we’re a solutions company that happens to operate an exchange.”
With ambitious growth plans, he’s moved away from a broad diversification strategy and targets the development of technology-driven solutions that solve his clients’ problems. His passion, energy, and laser focus are taking hold as he provides an example to those he leads of the change he hopes to see.
This example of Lou’s effective change management approach highlights three key components to ensuring success:
- You must show how change will occur and why. Help employees see what will be happening and provide them a clear vision of why. Introduce a mission that matters and help them feel a part of a larger goal. Offer facts and logical reasons for the changes needed. Lou made sure to be transparent and to clearly communicate expectations and how to achieve them.
- Understand the emotions attached to the situation and reduces those feelings that will undermine change. Lou prioritized his employees’ feelings – he wanted to hear what they thought and how they felt. Even if he didn’t agree, he felt it was important to listen and understand. Oftentimes, facts and figures will not persuade or motivate employees; instead, people buy-in on emotion supported by logic. Speak to emotions as they relate to the changes happen. When you inspire and persuade with language that addresses the intangible – look, feel, brand, safety, etc., you can strengthen your message with the rational – price, quality, feature, function, etc.
- Seek to change hearts in order to change behavior. A combination of persuasive communication and supportive facts will help change the hearts of employees which will eventually result in changed behavior and culture. When leaders are clear about what is happening, why things need to change, and how to accomplish it by channeling emotion, you will be more effectively in inspiring and provoking change.
When it comes to change, as Lou says, “You can run from it, or you can do something about it.” How has your organization dealt with change? How have you, as a leader, dealt with change? Incorporate effective strategies and methodologies to successfully deal with change. Learn more about my highly sought-after leadership and change management workshops, courses and presentations by visiting, www.chuckgarcia.com/coaching/