Changing Leaders to Activate Change

Cultural change is one of the most difficult challenges an or­ganization will ever face. It is hard to achieve under even the best of circumstances. Leadership from the top is essential. Consequently, sometimes an organization’s culture simply cannot be changed without a change in leadership.

This possibility arises when the staunchest defenders of the status quo are the most senior managers. Senior manag­ers are likely to be the individuals in an organization with the greatest investment in the past and, as a result, the greatest loyalty to orthodoxy. If the old adage holds true that “an or­ganization is the lengthened shadow of one person,” then the CEO must be the key player in changing an organization’s culture.

How does one know or how can one tell when it will be necessary to change leaders to change the organization? What follows are several questions that can be used by senior executives for self-assessment or by the organization in mak­ing its own assessment of the need for new leadership:

  1. Are the current leaders fully knowledgeable of the need to change and the ramifications of not changing?
  2. Are the current leaders able to articulate a vision for the new organization?
  3. Have the current leaders set the tone for change and established an organization-wide sense of urgency?
  4. Are the current leaders willing to remove all obstacles to cultural change?
  5. Do the current leaders have a history of following through on change initiatives?
  6. Are the current leaders willing to empower employees at all levels of the organization to make cultural change?

In an organization that needs to make a major cul­tural change, the answer to all of these questions must be yes. Senior executives who fail to comprehend the need to change and the ramifications of a lack of change cannot lead an organization through a major cultural change. Senior executives who cannot envision the new organization or ar­ticulate what they see will be unable to lead an organization through the change. If they fail to set the tone for cultural change, they will inhibit rather than lead the organization.

Senior executives who fail to create a sense of urgency will see cultural change fall victim to complacency. Senior executives who are unwilling to remove obstacles that inhibit cultural change have the wrong set of priorities. This some­times happens when the obstacles are perquisites, such as corporate aircraft or luxurious office suites to which execu­tives have grown accustomed.

Senior executives who have a history of starting change initiatives but failing to follow through on them are poor candidates to lead an organization through a major cultural shift. With such executives in leadership roles, employees at all levels are likely to adopt an attitude of “This too shall pass.” Finally, senior executives who are unwilling to empower em­ployees at all levels to help lead change will actually ensure that the effort to bring change will fail. Cultural change re­quires support, ideas, and leadership from employees at all levels. Senior executives who are unwilling to empower em­ployees to think and do will block cultural change.

Source: Goetsch David L., Davis Stanley B. (2016), Quality Management for organizational excellence introduction to total Quality, Pearson; 8th edition.

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