Before You Bring in That Change Agent

ImageToo many chief executives, under pressure to recruit an outsider to come in and make a fix, neglect to set up the newcomer for success.  My advice to CEOs is to anticipate and prepare for the challenges.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

Whether in response to Board pressure, regulatory changes or missed performance targets, there are times as CEO when you go to the outside.  In one case I observed, the Board pressured the CEO to bolster one business line’s systems and processes to attract outside investment.  The CEO was explicit in communicating the Board’s mandate to his incoming hire, but near silent with the affected business line head and his lieutenants.  When the change agent invited this team to collaboratively formulate the process improvements’ design and implementation, they smiled, nodded and then proceeded to passively  resist and marginalize her.  Determined to deliver on her own performance objectives, she dug in.  A power struggle ensued she was predetermined to lose.

Sometimes, your direct reports appreciate the call for change, but resist it when they suspect it’s their ox up for the goring.  In a different organization, the CEO brought in a new COO to, among other things, streamline financial reporting systems across operating units.  When the veteran CFO challenged the upstart COO at every turn, the rest of the executive team closed ranks to bar the “meddling.”  While today it was Finance under attack, tomorrow it could be their bailiwick.

Neither CEO anticipated the challenges nor created the conditions for the change agent to get traction.  Moreover, each allowed the new hire to founder like an organ transplant getting rejected by the host body.  The initiatives failed and the CEOs were damaged.

WHAT TO DO:

Make no mistake: change leadership is YOUR responsibility.  If the change agent is the organ transplant, then you are the immunosuppressive drug conditioning your team to integrate the foreign body until it’s indistinguishable from the host.    Follow these steps.

1.  Anticipate Your Ambivalence and Embrace Your Role as Change Sponsor

Despite fully grasping the imperative for new blood, you will likely still feel conflicted.  Your first impulse when the change agent arrives, might be to comfort and protect your team; after all, they’ve served you loyally and might even be your friends.  You might sense that “siding” with the newcomer will be perceived as a betrayal and could trigger abandonment by these  high performers.

2.  Invite Impacted Constituents to Co-own the Change

Over-communicate the substantive details of the change mandate to all direct reports with whom the change agent will need to work.  Also, engage these directs in this new hire’s recruitment activities.  Doing both will go a long way to produce early endorsement of both the process and the person.

3.  Update Your Team’s “Software” and “Reboot”

With the new hire on board, uncertainty can increase political jostling to unproductive levels.  Jumpstart the team as if you, too, were new to your role.  Reset expectations of the entire team around its new and existing strategic and operational goals.  Facilitate negotiations around positional roles and their decision rights.  Guide your team to adopt or reaffirm existing interactional protocols.

Be deliberate to create the conditions for your change agent to get traction.  When the transplant thrives, the entire body gets stronger.


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