Senior executives often come unstuck when they try to drive workforce transformation from the top. Successful change programs involve leaders throughout the organization.

In the face of powerful digital disruption, organizations need strong leaders who will equip and inspire employees as they adapt to the new demands of their work. These leaders, however, shouldn’t just reside in the executive suite. They need to be present throughout the organization.

One of the big obstacles to workforce transformation, identified by our Change Tracking research, is the lack of understanding about culture change among senior executives. Because they’re responsible for setting the organization’s vision and strategy, these executives often believe it’s up to them to drive culture change. They adopt a strong top-down approach to transforming the culture of the organization. And such approaches frequently fail.

Effective culture change occurs when it’s championed by many leaders at various levels throughout the organization. This is clear from our studies of change initiatives at more than 150 organizations. In the most successful change initiatives, as shown in the illustration below, a wide range of leaders were involved. They included C-suite executives and business leaders but also team leaders and team members. By contrast, only senior managers tended to be involved in change initiatives that performed poorly.

There’s a simple reason why leaders throughout the organization need to be involved in motivating culture change. It’s because culture is created and sustained by every single member of the workforce. It’s a combination of the mindsets, beliefs and behavior of all employees. Culture can’t be imposed on an organization from the top. It’s organic. It has to grow from all members of the workforce.

For an organization to successfully transform its culture, it needs to recognize that all of its employees are change agents. Leaders throughout the organization have to engage with workers individually. They must personally communicate why the organization needs to change, what’s required to achieve this transformation, and what will be different once it has been accomplished. Furthermore, they must demonstrate their own commitment to the change process.

Team leaders are crucial components of change initiatives. They’re able to galvanize transformation throughout large sections of the workforce. Leader interaction with employees during change processes is particularly important among young workers. They often respond well to mentoring and coaching. They’re also more likely to support change processes if they are able to participate in defining transformation goals and practices.

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss how organizations can encourage their employees to adopt new practices and behavior. Meanwhile, take a look at this report. I think you’ll find it useful.

New rules for culture change

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