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Friday, 25 April 2014 00:00

Change Resistance: The worst kind of top-down leadership

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I was about a month into the implementation of a major process-change initiative for a large global pharmaceutical company when I started encountering some real roadblocks.  We'd done a great job of creating a workable strategy, we'd stayed on-track with our initial implementation, and we'd had good responses to our internal communication efforts, but suddenly deadlines were getting missed, team leaders were showing up late (or not at all) to meetings, and the change team was hearing things like, "Look, I can't just abandon my everyday work to do this change stuff right now.  It's going to have to wait."

What was going on?

bad leadership

Finally I sat down with the VP who was championing the initiative and asked him point-blank what had changed:  "I thought this was a priority for you right now, but I feel like everyone's suddenly lost interest.  Is there something I should know?"

It turned out that two weeks earlier, his boss - the president of the US operations - had attended a global conference of all the company's senior executives.  While there, he'd heard about the other process-change initiatives going on in other countries - the German operation had this fantastic new CRM technology, the British operation had recently transformed their sales function and were outperforming the rest of the EU, etc. - and he came back full of doubt that our change initiative wasn't nearly as fantastic.

His real fear?  That the next time he met up with the global execs, his 'change story' wasn't going to sound as spectacular as theirs.

The result was that his attitude to the change project, hitherto enthusiastic, had become lukewarm.  This attitude was soon communicated to his senior leadership team, who then communicated it to their managers...it didn't take long before all the employees involved understood that what had previously been a high priority was headed for the back burner.

What the president didn't understand, of course, was that his sudden lack of enthusiasm was going to cause the very problem he feared:  When the people at the top start demonstrating their lack of interest in or passion for a change initiative, it's almost impossible for that initiative to truly succeed.

The solution:  With the VP's cooperation, I prepared a 30-minute 'Results Report', which I presented to the president and his senior team.  It reminded them how dramatic the results would be if we stayed on track, and I compared our post-change performance with that of the company's operations in other countries - demonstrating that our projected results would put the US operations in the top 3 worldwide.  The president was reassured that he'd still look good at the next global conference, and his enthusiasm returned.

Bottom line:  Change resistance that comes from the top can be the most damaging, because it has the most ability to derail a change effort.  The sooner you can get to the root of the problem, and address it head-on, the better you'll be able to keep a project on-track for the positive results you've worked for.

 

 

Read 3923 times Last modified on Sunday, 27 April 2014 02:43

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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