How Can the Implementation of a Defined and Well-Communicated Strategic Change Fail?

Senior leaders often define enterprise change from a strategic perspective. Too few executive-level Sponsors appreciate that as change is cascaded through the organization it has to be translated into the language of the impacted employees to successfully answer the questions: “What does this mean for me?”,“How does this change impact my work?” and “What do you want me to do differently?”

Despite well written and frequent communications reinforcing the change, Targets at lower levels in the organization often find it difficult to relate to the strategic definition senior level Sponsors are advocating. This distance between the top of the organization and the employees on the line or in the call center is often ignored. Senior leaders get frustrated because they don’t see the change happening. Employees lower in the organizational pyramid get frustrated because they don’t understand the change and what they are supposed to do differently. The result is unintentional resistance to the change.

Resolving this challenge can be easy once it is recognized and understood. Sponsors need to understand that the strategic definition of the Desired State must be translated to a tactical operational definition. Speak to impacted employees in their language and with a focus on how the change impacts them personally. The greater their level of understanding of the Desired State and what behaviors need to change, the higher the probability of ultimately achieving the expected outcomes and the faster they will adopt and accept the change.

The challenge and responsibility of “translation” of the Desired State falls to the mid-level manager Sponsor. She/he must clearly understand the strategic vision being driven through the organization by senior leadership AND the business processes that must be modified to operationalize the change. These Sponsors are sandwiched in the middle, and are being held accountable by both groups. To be successful, the mid-level Sponsor must:

  1. Understand the strategic desired state, the supporting business metrics and the expected outcomes
  2. Understand current operations and how the change will impact existing structure, processes, people skills and competencies and culture
  3. Understand Senior level Sponsor expectations for implementation
  4. Partner with the Change Agents and leverage their support and change management expertise
  5. Translate the strategic desired state to a tactical definition specific to the impacted employees
  6. Communicate the tactical definition in language and context of the impacted employees
  7. Lead the organization to tactical implementation of the desired state
  8. Share responsibility for sustaining the tactical desired state once attained

April 2015 Ricks Reflection Image

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