In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Leadership and Change Management

I have, over the years, had the “privilege” to observe at close quarters a variety of management and leadership styles. I would like to summarise these styles by using the following example, set millennia ago in a world of cave dwelling tribes.

Imagine, if you will, three tribes each living in their own set of caves. They each have a leader; A, B and C. Leader A sees that the current situation does not present a long term viable solution to the future housing, and resource, requirements of the community. A sees that in the valley, beyond the neighbouring jungle, there are resources; timber, food, pasture etc that will support a living growing community. Leader A also identifies that to take the tribe from the cave to the valley will be difficult and that there are risks involved; such as navigating their way through the jungle and feeding the tribe. However, the primary obstacle to relocating the tribe is their own natural inertia, namely the human characteristic of resistance to change. The caves are comfortable and safe, the huts that the tribe would have to build to live in the valley are a new untested idea; and after all, why put yourself in danger by uprooting and crossing the jungle?

A’s primary task is present a coherent, well researched and practical plan to the tribe; that outlines the dangers of staying put, the risks of crossing the jungle and the opportunities and rewards of moving to the valley. Leader A does not worry about focus groups, who would tell him that the tribe are quite happy to stay where they are. A calls a meeting of the tribal elders; and presents the case for moving, together with an analysis of the risks involved. The elders give their support and then communicate the message to the rest of the tribe. A sets out the details of the plan, allocates responsibility to specific elders for specific tasks and sets key performance indicators (such as daily food consumption) ensuring that they are regularly measured and action taken to improve performance where necessary. The tribe sets off and, during the long journey, A ensures that the tribe are kept “up to speed” with progress by regularly briefing them; measurable achievements are rewarded (eg by giving an extra food ration) thereby ensuring that people are motivated. The tribe reaches the valley, and development work on the huts begins.

Leader B also sees the valley and appreciates the fact that the tribe should not “stay put”. However, B does not perform sufficiently detailed research (not being a person with an interest in details) and overlooks the risks of crossing the jungle. B presents a very upbeat plan to the tribe (over the heads of the elders), no mention is made of the potential risks; after all B has not identified them! The tribe happily accept the vision of a new utopia and set off. Trouble, as it is wont to do, makes an unwelcome appearance. The lack of research into what would actually be required on the journey has meant that insufficient food was taken by the tribe. Additionally, no measurement system was put into place to monitor daily consumption (the devil is in the detail!). The food runs out, the tribe becomes disillusioned and scared. The elders wash their hands of the affair, and point out they were not involved in the decision making process. B is isolated and unsupported, there being no back up plan B starts to make panic decisions which exacerbate the situation. The tribe become hopelessly lost in the jungle.

Leader C likes the security and warmth of public approval, whilst C feels that it would be better to move the elders point out that the tribe are very happy where they are. Since there is no immediate threat to the tribe, or the leader, the decision can be postponed for a number of years. C agrees, why rock the boat? The tribe therefore stays put.

Let us now return to the scene some years later. What has happened to the three tribes. The first tribe succeeded in crossing to the valley and building the huts. They are flourishing, animals are being reared, crops nurtured and the tribe’s birth rate increasing.

The second tribe disintegrated into disarray and confusion, elders made a series of destabilising leadership bids and members of the tribe formed rival factions. In fact the tribe no longer exists as an identifiable entity. Some members made it through the jungle and joined up with the first tribe, others died, whilst some still inhabit the jungle (reverting to pre cave-dwelling status, reverse evolution in fact).

The third tribe is stagnating, birth rates are falling, the local eco system cannot support the tribe and it looks likely that they face extinction.

What does this tell us about leadership and change management? In my opinion successful leadership and change management require the following conditions to be fulfilled:

1. An effective leader must have the vision to see what can be achieved by changing the status quo. This vision must be clearly communicated and understood; if you don’t know where you are going, or why, then chances are you won’t get there!

2. An effective leader must have sufficiently researched the facts and details in order to formulate a successful plan.

3. An effective leader must understand the risks, and ensure that they can be managed to an acceptable level.

4. The plan must obtain the “buy in” of the people expected to carry it out. This requires that the rewards, risks and hardships involved must be fully and openly explained.

5. Key performance indicators should be set. These should be measured, and corrective actions taken in the event that targets are not met.

6. A reward structure must be developed to ensure that people are motivated.

7. Ongoing communication to the people carrying out the plan, as to its progress against target, must be maintained.

8. An effective leader should see the task through to completion, and not leave halfway through.

Take a look around you, at your company's management and at your politicians. Which category do they fall into? Should your answer be B or C then get rid of them, or find a place where leader type A runs the show.

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