How to Influence Leaders When Driving Strategy and Change

The key to a successful change program is management and leadership commitment to the proposed communication strategy. The greatest challenge for change managers is to ensure that leaders stay on message and do not waiver from the challenges ahead. Change is hard, whether you are at the frontline, or at the executive leadership level. But the most difficult role of all to cope with change is the leader, because pressures come from leadership team members warning against the changes, for many unfounded reasons. And they advise it is always safer to stay with what is known even if it is not the best outcome for the organisation rather than to take a risk to try to innovate and do something new that is untested.

So here’s what can you do to ensure that the focus stays on strategy.

1. Establish a project management team comprised of key leaders that focus on enterprise wide change and dependencies and is chaired by the CEO or department head. This ensures that the silo mentality is broken down as managers are required to adapt to a new process, that is, thinking of their specific project and the impact across the organisation, which in turns changes behaviour.

2. From a change communication perspective it is important to ensure that communication is timely and aligned with progress at each of these change meetings. More importantly it is essential to communicate how each project and strategy execution is aligned with the enterprise wide vision and direction of the organisation. This way employees and managers will understand how individual projects are linked and how the organisational strategy is dependent on them all coming together.

3. All members of the leadership team need to be aligned. They must have consistent messaging regarding the direction they are communicating and that it is linked to the organisational vision and strategy. The need to communicate this face to face and influence support, provide specific details of the positive outcomes of the strategy to those who are accountable for driving aspects of the strategy.

4. Identifying and communicating the performance requirements linked to the strategy and confirming this at regular intervals throughout the year keeps everyone focused on the strategy and tasks.

5. Ensure that all managers make the strategy reviews and updates a key part of their regular team meetings.

6. Implementation is the most difficult aspect to manage successfully of any project because this is when it becomes real – most resistance will be at this phase of strategy execution, so it is important to have engagement strategies in place before this phase.

7. Identify those members of the leadership team most likely to be committed to achieving the outcomes and design a specific role for them to influence their peers and their management teams.

8. Where project management falls down is at the middle management level unless they have been engaged from the beginning and this means actually involved in the project and being able to influence the direction. This is where significant undermining occurs of project implementation and that is largely based in fear. Find out what the fear is and then address it and ensure that middle management are engaged from the beginning so they feel less threatened by the unknown.

Senior management provide direction for the strategy, ensure that appropriate resources both people and dollars are available, are focussed and directly involved and aware of all the issues and risks of the project and most importantly provide updates and direction on an ongoing basis. The role of the change manager is to support this by ensuring that all the other issues that could derail the project are dealt with so that the senior leadership do not back track on the strategy.

Finally to maintain commitment to change all projects needs to be integrated into the longer term strategy and vision of the organisation and for all employees from frontline to senior leadership to understand how the project and their role contributes to the overall vision. Change is only successful when it is seamlessly integrated into the way the organisation operates, not as an appendage to the organisation.

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