Magazine Article | April 30, 2014

Stop Outsourcing Your Change

Source: Life Science Leader

By Justin Wasserman, engagement leader, Kotter International

A few years ago I worked 2 with a multinational pharmaceutical firm whose new CEO was looking to dramatically transform the business. The company was overly complex and slow-moving and lacked strategic alignment around its resource allocation. He knew things needed to change, so he did what countless other executives have done in similar situations — relied on an army of internal (six sigma) and external consultants.

He didn't know it at the time, but this did more harm than good.

Why? Bringing in “experts” to lead the change process meant leadership could abdicate their change responsibilities. The foreign “consultant-speak” of the “change experts” created more confusion than clarity and caused employees to lose sight of the goals the company had set out to accomplish. Time after time, the company's change initiatives fell flat because employees' heads and hearts just weren't in support of the changes.

I've seen this scenario occur countless times. But I've also witnessed organizations undergo major transformations successfully. The difference? Successful companies in-source their change.

Change should be a fundamental skill in all companies — one that can be unlocked by looking within. Within every organization lies a hidden capacity of talent that must be tapped. Trusting your employees with this responsibility can seem daunting, but I've seen four building blocks of in-sourcing that ease the process:

  1. Urgency: The first (and most important) step is to build urgency with your employees around a critical make-or-break opportunity. Don't just tell your employees that "X" is bad and needs to be fixed. Position the change as a big opportunity and in a way that captures the hearts and minds of your people to help propel you to new heights.
  2. Representation: Involving employees in the change process is not about assembling your go-to "A-team" of executives and high-potentials. It's far more effective to create the conditions for choice — a “get to” rather than “have to” environment — by giving employees of all levels the chance to volunteer. You'll be surprised how many hands get raised.
  3. Volume: As a rule, at least 50 percent of your organization should be helping drive the change process. If employees are in support of opportunity and feel like you genuinely want their help, they will volunteer their discretionary time.
  4. Duration: Even if you have thousands of excited employees from all levels of your organization working to make a major strategic shift, you will fail if you declare victory too soon. Even when it looks like you've successfully seized your big opportunity, don't let up until the change has been anchored into your culture. But don’t forget to celebrate the small wins throughout the process, well before you reach the finish line.