How do leaders drive (lasting) change?
Last week, I enjoyed spending a few days in Vegas, speaking and networking at Fiserv's annual client Forum. The keynote on the second day of the event was Troy Aikman, who was interviewed by Fiserv's CEO Jeff Yabuki about sports, of course, as well as about leadership and business.
One of the stories that Troy shared resonated with me because it's exactly the kind of thing that I talk about when it comes to driving lasting change: leaders can't just talk the talk; they must walk the walk.
The story goes something like this.
Troy is a sharp-dressed man; when it comes to work/business, he is always dressed in a suit. After he bought his first car dealership, he walked in and noticed that all of the sales guys were dressed casual, in polo shirts and slacks. He wanted them to dress nicer, but he didn't want to come into his new business and be a hard nose right away. So, he didn't say anything. Instead, he just showed up at the dealership every day in a suit. By the end of the first week, a couple of the guys had upgraded their attire, and by the end of the second week, all of them were dressed in suits. And he never said a word!
It's a great reminder that you can drive change - lasting change - when you do a few simple, yet often forgotten, things. Troy didn't talk about any conversations he had with the staff after the two weeks, but I can only imagine he applauded their actions.
To drive lasting change...
- Communicate the change, using a variety of vehicles and media. Share the change vision. Tell the change story. Let employees know what is changing, why it's changing, how it will impact them and what they do (differently) on a daily basis, and how they will be involved. If no one knows what the change is or why it's taking place, then they'll ignore it; they certainly don't want to be a part of it.
- It's important that executives lead by example and model the change that they wish to see from their employees; if they don't live the change, why should employees?! If your CEO doesn't demonstrate commitment to the transformation by being the role model for how to deliver a great experience, it won't happen. If she doesn't live the core values, why should you? Actions always speak louder than words.
- Recognize the right behaviors and reinforce with incentives, promotions, metrics, and more. Reinforcing the behaviors, actions, and changes that you want to see is more powerful than talking about them, especially when combined with modeling them.
- Involve employees in the change process rather than forcing change on them. If they're involved, the solutions may be richer because they have other perspectives and experiences that the decision-making leader may not have. Better yet, present them (spoke or unspoken, as was the case with Troy) with a problem or a situation, and let them come to the conclusion themselves. If they believe it was their own idea, it'll stick; they'll own it.
Yes, change is hard. But it's not impossible. These four things are important and work together. Just remember this: leaders can't expect to see change happen if all they do is talk about the changes but don't do things differently themselves. Case in point: if you're talking about transforming your culture to one that is customer-centric, yet you continue to push staff to make their quarterly numbers and reinforce behaviors that speak to a focus on growth at all cost - sans focusing on the customer experience - then you're not walking the walk.
Talk is cheap.
If you cannot prove it by your action(s), you do not mean it. -Murad S. Shah
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