In today’s dynamic business environment, competitive threats and opportunities are continually evolving and accelerating. Companies must find ways to adapt and innovate if they want to remain relevant. Rather than digging in their heels and resisting change, they must remain open to the possibility of doing things differently if they want to maintain a growth trajectory. Real change and growth starts at the top, with CEOs setting the tone and direction for the organization as a whole.
Accepting the need for change and taking direct steps to implement it, however, are two very different things. Successful change initiatives not only require extensive planning and forethought, but also buy-in from multiple stakeholders within a company. In order to establish and maintain forward-thinking momentum, CEOs need to keep a number of things in mind when managing change.
5 Strategies for Implementing Change
Create Opportunities for Failure and Welcome It
Successful CEOs understand there is a difference between accepting failure and welcoming failure. Accepting failure is critical. Some leaders love to win, while others hate to lose. In either case, when they fail quickly, they must find a way to accept it and bounce back rather than allowing negativity to spiral out of control.
Welcoming failure is an admission of the current situation and the intent to overcome it. When CEOs welcome failure, they view it as a temporary obstacle which they can quickly power through and gain knowledge by learning from the experience. As a Honda executive once observed: “Failure is never an acceptable outcome; instead, it is the means to acceptable outcomes.”
Organizations that incorporate this notion of welcoming failure into their corporate culture accelerate success. CEOs can assess their organization’s attitude toward failure by asking a few questions:
Is the organization willing to accept new ideas and take (justifiable) risks or is there no process for encouraging innovation?
Are employees motivated by the possibility of growth or are they expected to remain in their current roles?
Are there incentives in place for developing and testing new products and services or is the emphasis on maintaining the status quo?
Define the Process First and the Goals Second
The pressure to succeed on all fronts can be overwhelming for CEOs, but that is often the result of organizations allowing their goals to define their process. Having sound processes in place is critical to scaling an organization and adapting to change. Without this structure in place, organizations end up cobbling together an ad hoc process that might help them to reach a goal, but will not be very resilient in the face of adversity and shifting circumstances.
By focusing on developing and maturing internal processes to reach the desired level of quality, CEOs can create a sense of stability and identity within an organization. Once they’ve helped to establish a method that works, it will be much easier to create goals that match the process and drive innovation in the organization.
Create Feedback Loops to Improve Communication
Reality and perception are not always the same. Communication is an integral component of managing change. Without receiving regular feedback, CEOs may perceive their progress as successful, when it might only be perceived by their team to be neutral at best or even prove illusionary. Adding feedback loops is critical for allowing team members to communicate their perceptions of progress. No one should underestimate the power of regular communication because it keeps the organization focused on shared goals. More importantly, increasing the rate of interaction between teams and their managers creates meaningful workplace connections.
For example, when companies start development on a new product, it can be hard for leaders to evaluate the project’s impact on the day-to-day motivation of their team. However, when they implement standardized strategies and use leadership feedback loops to track performance perceptions, they can ensure both the quality of the progress and the motivation level of the team and take appropriate actions proactively.
Promote Accountability to Increase Agility
CEOs must promote accountability in their company culture to create an agile organization that can quickly adapt to change. Accountability is based on the principle that each employee is aware of how their decisions affect the whole organization. Shared processes and common goals make it easier to hold people accountable because they understand what is expected of them and what they are trying to accomplish.
When employees understand their responsibilities, leaders can hold them to measurable results and ensure that critical tasks are carried out. In challenging situations, CEOs can also rely on peer groups for sage advice on how to achieve project milestones and goals, or successfully ask for advice on how to re-deploy team members to find solutions and overcome problems.
Manage Your Ego to Make Quality Decisions
Ego is essential to success, but an unchecked ego can quickly become negative at every level. While some level of confidence is useful for survival and self-preservation in a corporate environment, it’s often detrimental for CEOs hoping to guide and inspire their leadership team.
Real leaders need to be hyper-vigilant about keeping their egos in check and separating personal benefits from those of the company. A CEO peer group is extremely helpful in this area because it allows leaders to hear unbiased opinions from peers struggling with similar issues and challenges on a daily basis with no personal or vested interest in the success or failure of another member’s company.
Preparing for change and implementing difficult business transformations is one of the greatest challenges facing today’s CEOs. By taking a long look at their organizational culture and their own behavior, CEOs can assess whether they are ready to adapt to changing circumstances in ways that allow their company to grow and remain competitive in the future.
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A lifelong serial entrepreneur and community leader, Mark Stagen, Founder of XLN, started his first company at age 15 and hasn't looked back. Since then, he’s founded, and later sold, several successful companies, including Telecore and Emerald Health Services, which have generated over $1 billion in combined revenues. Mark also founded the Youth Business Alliance, a non-profit organization that works with High Schools in economically challenged areas to educate, motivate and inspire the students on business, entrepreneurship and career development.
Mark has received numerous business and community awards including: EY Entrepreneur of the Year and Inc. 500. He is actively involved in YPO and has served in many leadership roles including Chapter Chair and Regional Chair. Mark received his BA in three years from Yale University, was a member of the Yale Football Team and is an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business.