When leading business transformation in this fast-paced world, it would be easy to draw only on experience and intuition and focus only on hard financial outcomes and then rush toward them. But as a leader, when it comes to large-scale, global change management, it is imperative to not act on assumptions, as doing so risks moving the entire effort toward a wrong fact. Instead, it is most important to lead a program of mindful change.
In my most recent organizational change process as Pontoon’s president, I assessed the aims, created outcomes and set a course. Boston Consulting Group would define my preferred approach as a “river-crossing strategy,” because while I have a clear outcome in mind, the path to get there is not as clear. The consequence is, you have to see the end, but equally accept your part is sometimes not knowing the route to get to the needed outcome while driving. The speed of modern business and the expectations on us mean not all leaders are willing to take this approach.
Six core principles enable me to admit fallibility, execute change mindfully and still achieve the defined outcomes.
Focus on the customer experience. All decisions must be made with this as the overriding anchor. Assessing throughout the change curve that we are steering toward optimum outcomes for the customer has to be the guiding light when the path is not clear. As companies are all changing and adapting to their markets, we must be in continuous contact with our customers and ask what is best for them, not best for us.
Explore your business. I always work with an external consultant at the outset of change programs; they come free of preconceived perspectives or opinions. Working with a smaller practice allows a personalization and depth of insight you may not always get from a larger group, so I choose one that reflects our company values but who can operate globally.
Solution-focused questioning. Business leadership advisor David Cooperrider writes: “Our worlds move in the direction of the questions we ask.” This is particularly true in a mindful change program. Talking to employees, using questions that do not dwell on problems but rather desired outcomes and making these queries consistently across leadership teams and the business has tangible benefit. It allows the organization to arrive at meaning from within.
Metrics and data. Measuring the approach is as important as measuring the results. Evidencing the change in measurable data makes the employee voice even more powerful, as data confirms whether the business perspective is perception or reality. Creating an early baseline and continuing to provide evidence supporting the truth you are working toward is crucial.
Be brave when hiring. Build a direct understanding and rapport on a personal level — small touches have large impacts.
For example, I recently hand-wrote 150 letters to my team, thanking them for their service and offering personal yet strategic ideas for their group. Creating a secure base in your business allows you to identify change agents at all levels. Empowering them to rewrite the narrative is essential as you drive to new outcomes. When you have fully assessed your existing business, go externally and hire from nontraditional areas to augment the team. This offers a fresh, creative approach that ties to the new narrative. Be bold in these decisions; know experience is not everything.
Be willing to fail (fast). Mindful change relies on empowering the business to trust the relationship between success and failure. Taking away the fear of failure is the ultimate empowerment to proactive change as a bonding experience occurs while change is happening. In the event an early model or prototype breaks, the bond does not. This provides freedom to rework, rebuilding a path to success.
By focusing on the above tenets in equal measure, we can drive mindful change in a business. I strongly believe that as the necessity to transform increases in regularity, and with it the needed pace, mindful change is the only way to ensure an organization can survive.