SEMS Says: Sustaining Organizational Transformation through a People, Process and Leadership Focus

Sreekanth Ramakrishnan, Ph.D. IBM Corporation

Lean and Lean Six Sigma business transformation initiatives have become a business imperative for many organizations in just about every industry sector. While many organizations are attempting to implement these methodologies; the vast majority of them fail to meet their business transformation objectives and/or fail to sustain their business transformation gains. One of the most commonly identified reasons for failing to sustain their transformation is the lack of focus on the organization culture. This article presents salient tips for managing your organization’s transformation efforts and the role of culture modeling tools.

Understanding Readiness for Change: An organization’s operating culture can be assessed and measured, and this information can provide valuable insight into the primary behavioral styles that will enable a transformation initiative.  There are several methods being used today to measure the ‘health’ of an organization’s culture.  Most methods use a survey-based approach to evaluate those deep rooted organizational beliefs and values that influence the behaviors of its members [Denison Organizational Culture Model, Organizational Culture Inventory, etc]. The assessment results are used to educate the Leadership Team and all members of the organization regarding their expected role in supporting sustainable change during this transformation initiative. In addition to the culture, process and technology maturity can also be assessed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the internal business processes and technology. Lastly, a skills assessment of employees that focuses on rational and interpersonal skills can provide into any skill gaps that exists with the transformation goals.

Focus on Leadership: The foundation of a high performing culture, complemented by a transformational leadership team is critical for an organization’s transformation efforts. The leadership team sets the vision, mission and strategy, whereas the employees are responsible for implementing actions to reach the vision. Involving employees early in the transformation is critical, along with providing them with the opportunities to learn the new transformation skills. Leadership teams, on the other hand, have to lead by example. One key step is to understand the impact they have on the employees they lead. This helps them to lower any masks and identify any blind spots. Assessments such as the Leadership Impact (Human Synergistics) and Leader Standard Work (Dr. David Mann) are tested and tried methods for this purpose. Ultimately, developing transformational leadership behaviors have been invaluable in identifying those behavioral norms that need to be addressed to create a true high-performing and adaptive culture across the organization.

Defining the “WIIFM (What is in it for me)”: Translating the business objectives, vision and mission to the employee is an extremely important step during any transformation initiative. Clear communication on (i) why the organization and thereby the employee has to change and (ii) the clear role of the employee to support the transformation effort is foundational. Low adoption rates and poor participation in the transformation activities characterize situations where the WIIFM is not clear. Frequent town hall meetings and gathering employee feedback through focus group sessions are good methods to ensure employee participation.

Imparting Transformation Skills to All Employees: Successful transformations have a people-centric balanced scorecard. One of the key components is to provide a platform for learning critical transformational skills that include structured problem solving disciplines (e.g. Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, and PDCA) and interpersonal skills (e.g. team-based decision making, direct/open/sensitive communication).  These skills are employed by the organization to solve their business problems and opportunities in a collaborative environment, which in turn results in a constructive culture that fosters innovation and continuous improvement. In addition, the leadership also needs to go through focused training on understanding their role in supporting the transformation. The question deployment champions need to ask themselves as they define the skills roadmap is: “What behaviors do we expect the employees to change as a result of this skill or program”?

Right Metrics Drive the Right Behavior: Metrics motivate employees; however, they should be meaningful. In order to monitor the adoption rates and engagement of the employees to the transformation, including individual contributions to the initiative can be a part of the appraisal system. Contributions could be in the form of exhibiting leadership in problem solving, involvement in improvement projects/Kaizens, mentoring colleagues, teaching topics to peers and attending training programs to improve skills.  In addition, organizations should also monitor the progress made on all elements of the balanced scorecard – employee growth, internal process excellence, financial excellence and customer satisfaction. By focusing on the leading indicators of employee growth and internal process excellence, the lagging indicators of financial excellence and customer satisfaction should follow.

In summary, an organization’s successful transformation is based on an overt focus on the culture and leadership. A learning based change effort ensures employee growth and empowers them to make change happen. Any transformation is successful only if there is tops-down support and bottoms-up implementation. This article presents some of the critical success factors for deployment leaders to consider as they are planning their transformation initiatives.

1 Comment so far

  1. Focus on Leadership addresses how servant-leadership is now increasingly recognized as being on the forefront of emerging leadership thinking.

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